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Denali National Park staffer killed in avalanche he triggered, officials say

Park officials said he was skiing on an unnamed, north-facing slope in the Alaskan park's vast backcountry.

A Denali National Park and Preserve staffer was killed in an avalanche he triggered while skiing in the Alaskan wildlands that are home to the nation's highest peak, officials said Friday.

Eric Walter was found dead Thursday after rescuers rushed to the general area of his last location, according to the National Park Service.

This undated photo released by Denali National Park and Preserve shows employee Eric Walter, who died as he was caught in an avalanche while skiing on a north-facing slope near Mile 10 on the Park Road, Thursday, May 4, 2023, in Denali Park, Alaska. Walter provided radio-based safety support and dispatch services for National Park Service operations across Alaska.
Denali National Park and Preserve employee Eric Walter in an undated image.Denali National Park and Preserve/NPS Photo via AP

Park rangers found his vehicle parked off Denali's main road, it said. Then they spotted signs of Walter's gear amid an avalanche debris field.

"Two skis, one vertical, one lying flat on the surface, as well as an orange bag were observed in a debris field in the avalanche area," the park service said.

Mountaineering rangers brought along life-support equipment used to rescue avalanche survivors, the park service said. A park helicopter was overhead.

The park service said he was skiing alone on the unnamed, north-facing slope south of Jenny Creek when he triggered an avalanche.

A witness reported the avalanche to employees of the park's kennel, nearby, and a search-and-rescue operation was launched, the park service said.

Snow depth in the adjacent Denali State Park was roughly 3 to 4 feet Monday, Alaska parks officials said. "With recent warmer weather, use caution when traveling in avalanche terrain," the state's Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation said in the conditions report.

Part of Walter's job was to guide others in the 6.1 million acre federal park, help keep its communications humming, and assist visitors and workers stay safe, the National Park Service park.

The park's main attraction is its eponymous mountain, which rises to 20,310 feet.

"Eric was a much-loved member of the Alaska Regional Communications Center (Denali Dispatch) and was known throughout the Alaska Region for providing radio-based safety support and dispatch services for National Park Service operations across Alaska," the park service said.