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Avalanches, bear encounters, moose collisions, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are some of the topics featured in a new Discovery Channel special, "Alaska: Most Extreme." Premiering April 16, the show will air in the middle of a week of programming called "Alaska Week," which begins April 12 and runs through April 17.
The one-hour special features Juneau in an opening piece about avalanches and what it's like living in their shadow.
"The first story is about avalanches and features Juneau's position as the large urban avalanche danger-zone, in essence," said David Huntley, executive producer of Moore Huntley Productions who produced the show for the Discovery Channel.
"Juneau's focus is as an urban area at risk of having avalanches hit in different ways, by threatening neighborhoods but also the dependence on transmission lines coming up from Snettisham Power House. This is such an amazing story to tell because I don't think many people in the lower 48 know that. They might know that Juneau is not connected to the outside with a road, but I don't think they know the history of avalanche danger," said Huntley.
After producing and working on many shows about Alaska subjects and topics over the last 20 years, and intensively for five or six years now, Huntley wanted to look closer at people and their daily interactions with nature.
"Moore Huntley Productions has been producing programs for the History Channel, National Geographic and now for the Discovery Channel, and what I keep finding is there are more and more interesting stories about the people and the environment in Alaska that I don't have a chance to tell" Huntley said. "So we proposed this to the Discovery Channel as a highlight show looking at the many ways the environment affects life and work in Alaska, and surprisingly how many superlatives or extremes exist and affect daily life."
Huntley, who is drawn to the north because of its history and layers, was introduced to Alaska in 1991 while working in the Aleutians on the PBS science magazine show "Scientific American Frontiers" with Alan Alda.
"I went out to the story in the Aleutian Islands about the ancient technology of the baidarka and got stuck on Adak Island for a week because of fog - the plane couldn't get in. It was your typical Alaska experience, and right then I was just kind of hooked with the land and the people and the interaction between the two."
While Moore Huntley Productions acknowledge their home base in Massachussettes is about as far away as you can get from their subject, Huntley Moore embeds themselves in different communities for months at a time, which creates ties to different entities.
"We created close relationships with people from past documentaries with Alaska Light and Power (AEL&P), the Department of Transportation, Alaska State Troopers, the Coast Guard, and different organizations, and we kept in touch," Huntley explained.
It was these relationships that led to the story about the avalanche in Juneau.
"Last April when the transmission towers were knocked down, we went and filmed and it was one of the stories we suggested we should follow up on - and it unfortunately happened again this winter, so we were able to go out with the AEL&P crews when they were starting to work on repairing it," he said.
Huntley and his crew also rely on headlines from the Juneau Empire and other newspapers to lend authenticity to the segments. Some of the headlines are from the downed power lines, bear attacks in Anchorage and Mount Redoubt erupting.
"One thing we really try to do in our programs is relate to topical events, news and stories that affect everyone's lives, so throughout this show we have a number of stories that were newsworthy. We cite a lot of past events and news stories to make the case stronger that these are not isolated incidents but things that happen over and over again."
It is these conditions that sparked the idea for a show focusing just on the extreme environment and the challenges they pose.
"Having the highest mountains in North America, some of the coldest and harshest winters - the most snowfall ever in one place is Thompson Pass outside of Valdez - so having spent so much time in Alaska and learning so much about it and spending so much time with the people there, I started finding that all these extremes really speak to the challenges of living and working in Alaska," Huntley said. "The number of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and all those kinds of things sparked the idea of doing a show about the different extremes and the ways in which people have to deal with keeping the roads open and keeping the electricity on."
For more information about the show, visit www.discovery.com/alaskaweek.