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More avalanche deaths in western USExBulletin




Three people died in avalanches in Colorado and Montana over the weekend. Colorado alone has seen 10 avalanche deaths this winter.


The United States is on track for the deadliest avalanche season in half a decade. Three other people died in the Colorado and Montana backcountry over the weekend. Brian Mann reports from NPR.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Dave Zinn is an avalanche forecaster in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana. He says two people snowboarded yesterday to ride an area called Beehive Basin.

DAVE ZINN: As they went up to the ridge line, they triggered the avalanche. The slope fractured and cracked around them. One of them was able to make his way out of the slab, grabbing some trees.

MANN: Zinn says the Second Frontier couldn’t fight freely and died after being swept down the slope.

ZINN: He hit a tree, and that’s where he came to a stop.

MANN: Two others, a skier and a snowmobiler, also died Sunday in separate incidents in Colorado. Experts say avalanche conditions are especially dangerous this winter due to snowfall across much of the west. Drew Hardesty is an avalanche forecaster in Utah.

DREW HARDESTY: In my 21 year career forecast, I haven’t seen this where we issued a statewide avalanche warning.

MANN: It’s common for 11 or 12 people to die each winter in backcountry avalanches in the United States. This year the tally is already 25. One thing that sets this season apart, says Hardesty, is the number of avalanches killing more than one skier.

HARDESTY: This year alone, across the West and in Alaska, there have been multiple fatality events. Colorado had one. Alaska has had a triple death. And now we have just suffered a quadruple death that just as easily could have killed seven people in that avalanche that day.

MANN: According to national statistics compiled by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, more than a third of avalanche deaths so far this year involve these group accidents. Ethan Greene, the center’s director, says it made February deadly in ways he’s never seen.

ETHAN GREENE: We don’t see multiple fatal accidents in a short period of time. We have only seen this a few times in the past 60 years.

MANN: Greene says forecasters are trying to get the word out that people who go skiing or snowmobiling should be extra careful.

GREENE: It’s safe to say we’re having a bad year. It’s more a matter of gravity.

MANN: Greene says people should check the forecast and have the right training and gear before heading to areas away from commercial ski areas, where avalanches are possible.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

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