The roar of snowmobile engines filled the air as Richard Strick put on his familiar black and red helmet and climbed aboard his sled. Pulling the starter rope, his Polaris fired to life.
The snow, which had been falling off and on for the past few weeks, was once again piling up on the trails around McGrath this Valentine day in 2006. The Iditarod race, just days away, would pass through this stretch of the interior as it headed for the coast. Strick’s job was to make sure the trail was clear and passable.
He realized he needed help to cut the course. After a quick ride around town, he managed to assemble five other riders who were strong, capable and ready to roll with him.
“Chuck you take up the rear,” he instructed. “I’ll take the lead and the rest fall in. Just make sure we have enough distance between sleds so we’re not riding on top of each other in this weather. It’s tough to see out there.”
As Strick lead the way through Rainy Pass, the group triggered a massive avalanche burying three riders. Two of the riders were able to get out on their own or recovered quickly, but Strick, covered by more than 10 feet of snow, wasn’t so lucky. No one in the party carried avalanche transceivers or probes. It took hours to get the help needed to recover Strick’s body leaving his family devastated.
This year, before the Iditarod and Iron Dog racers set out along the same route, Alaska Safe Riders, led by Mike Buck, will serve as ambassadors. They will be carrying messages of safety and chances for the children to receive a new snowmobile helmet thanks to support from Donlin Gold, Eagle River Polaris Arctic Cat, Saltchuk Corporation and Iron Dog.
“Our goal is to share stories and safety tips that can save the lives of others,” said Buck. “We understand riding snowmachines is a critical part of life in these rural communities. We want kids to grow up understanding and living a culture of safety so together we can reduce unintentional injuries and deaths.”
From avalanches to collisions, drowning to exposure, communication to companion rescue, this short program covers a wide range of potential hazards and ways to prevent tragic outcomes.
“There are many things we can each do to make sure our rides are round-trip, not one-way,” said Buck. “But it takes lots of help and volunteers to make this possible.
“We depend on the generosity and compassion of those who understand the importance of these training programs and are able to support our work,”
said Buck. “In memory of folks like Richard Strick Jr., we are working every day to prevent future tragedies like this through education.”
You can learn more, get involved and access safety video’s complied by Alaska Safe Riders and Iron Dog racers by visiting www.alaskasaferiders.com.