Expert: Severe Winter Has Worsened Risk Of Deadly Avalanches

Two skiers killed in Colorado brings the total number of dead to 14

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An avalanche expert has warned that irregular weather patterns this winter have created an unusually high risk of avalanches in mountainous regions, following the thirteenth and fourteenth avalanche-related deaths of the season. 

Two skiers died Saturday in a large avalanche triggered by a party of seven, on Star Mountain near Leadville, Colo. Fourteen people have died so far this season as a result of avalanches, including six in the last week. By this time last season, just nine people had died in avalanches.

“The storms in the West have been very potent. We’re getting feet of snow in a matter of a day or so combined with lots of wind,” said Brian Lazar of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “With unusual weather events we start to see higher numbers of avalanches.”

An average of approximately 28 people are killed every year in the United States in avalanches, usually as a result of being crushed under the snow and suffocating before help arrives.

Much of Washington, Utah and other areas in the West are under high avalanche alert after a series of storms left them vulnerable to snow slides. Unseasonably warm temperatures combined with very heavy, rapid snowfall in a short period of time create dangerous avalanche conditions. High winds can make matters even worse.

If the unpredictable winter weather continues, Lazar said, “you’re going to see unusual avalanches that¬†occur in places that might surprise you, and might even surprise experts.”