Springtime means tourists flock to Alaska’s wilderness

Every spring, the sun warms the great state of Alaska, thawing some of the packed snow and ice that became a mainstay over the long winter months. Almost like clockwork, temperatures climb, plants bloom, rivers thaw and tourists arrive. Alaska is one of the most beautiful states in the nation, with thousands of miles of unspoiled vistas, abundant wildlife, and outdoor adventures that all equate with a great time, but it is still rugged and dangerous enough that serious injury or death can easily occur.

A cautionary tale

A recent high-profile snowmachine accident involving a native Alaskan emphasizes how dangerous the terrain can be, even for people familiar with the challenges it presents. U.S Army researcher Tom Douglas was collecting ice and snow samples on the Jarvis Glacier when his snowmachine broke through a snow bridge, sending him and the machine down into a deep crevasse. He fell approximately 80 feet - the height of an 8-story building - before he became wedged in and his feet managed to contact a ledge in the ice. He was trapped in the icy crevasse for hours while rescue teams worked to save him, but he eventually escaped relatively unharmed.

While it is not necessarily earth-shattering that someone could fall into a crevasse on a glacier, the key point to take away from Douglas' story is that he is an experienced scientist with knowledge of the glaciers in the area, he understands the patterns of ice fracture that commonly indicate breaks in the ice and he has been climbing glaciers and peaks in the area for several years. If a potentially fatal accident could happen to him, imagine what sort of danger could face a tourist setting out on the ice for the first time.

Springtime hazards

Many tourists come to Alaska seeking an "adventure," not realizing how hazardous conditions can be even for those touring the area with a guide or as part of a group. Springtime's warmth brings bears and other wild animals out of hibernation on a mission to find food, so it is important to use good wilderness "etiquette:" always store food in bear-proof containers, make noise while hiking, fishing or photographing the landscape so you won't walk up on a bear accidentally and surprise it, and never run from a bear.

Other hazards include unstable weather conditions (particularly felt by the small planes and helicopters that both provide transportation and sightseeing), avalanches triggered by melting snow, rugged roadways, lack of access to sophisticated medical care in the more remote areas, frigid conditions and rough terrain, all of which can cause serious physical injuries or even fatalities.

Injuries sustained while on vacation, whether they are caused by nature or by the fault of another person, might not be considered an "in network" expense by most insurance companies, meaning that medical expenses can quickly grow out of control. If you have been injured while sightseeing, camping, climbing or whale watching in Alaska, seek the advice of a personal injury attorney who can explain liability issues and help you determine whether or not you have a viable legal claim against a tour guide, pilot, rental car agency or other party involved with coordinating your vacation.