Juneau snowboarders Charlie Howard and Dave Dammann rode the slope below Hogsback Ridge after noon Thursday, shortly before it tore loose under Adam Roy and Stephan Drake.
The avalanche briefly buried Roy, who was pulled out by Drake.
"We broke the trail out," Howard said. "They were maybe a half-hour behind us. There might have been five people that dropped that line before them."
Howard said the slope above Cropley Lake, just beyond the Eaglecrest Ski Area boundary, is a favorite of his. The run is about a half-hour hike along Pittman's Ridge from the top of the lift. Howard said it's a fairly popular route for skiers and snowboarders willing to hike the ridges above Eaglecrest in search of untracked snow.
"It's not like they were any place stupid," Dammann said. "It was bad luck. It could've happened to any one of us. We're going to go buy 'peeps' before we go out of bounds again."
Peeps are avalanche transceivers, wallet-size beacons that emit radio signals, which help rescuers locate someone buried under snow. Roy was wearing a beacon when he was caught in the slide.
The top of the slide area was visible from the Eaglecrest parking lot Thursday afternoon, a long, horizontal crack running across the face of the ridge. Dammann saw the aftermath of the slide shortly after it occurred and said it went all the way down to Cropley Lake.
"It was ugly," Dammann said. "Definitely a bad slide."
Bruce Griggs, who witnessed the avalanche, said he saw at least eight sets of tracks running through the zone where the avalanche started.
"Everyone was thinking the stability was pretty good. It was a surprise and an eye-opener for everyone," Griggs said. "It goes to show no matter how stable you think it is, there always that chance it's going to pop on you."
Griggs said he knows that locals ski that area alone, in violation of the basic safety rules of backcountry skiing. Signs on the trail out to that area advise skiers and snowboarders of safety precautions.
Roy and Drake "were doing the right thing," Griggs said. "If they hadn't practiced the rules of backcountry skiing, there'd be a dead body now. Hopefully that's an eye-opener to locals that go over there by themselves."
Roy and Drake had just completed a course in avalanche safety taught by Griggs' Alaska Guide School. Griggs said about a dozen people took the course, including Kip Wheeler of Skagway and Shaun "Fishbone" Williams of Girdwood, Colo.
"They were following proper protocol," said Williams of Roy and Drake. "They were by the book. But if they had been in the backcountry, I think they'd have taken a lot more precautions. You get a false sense of security because it's a ski area."
Riley Woodford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.