Winter storms creating treacherous avalanche conditions; 6 dead

Six people have been killed and two injured skiers were awaiting rescue after being struck or buried by avalanches--one 9-feet deep--across the West in recent days.

In Oregon: Two cross-country skiers in Oregon were killed about noon Tuesday near Cornucopia in the southern Wallowa Mountains, the Baker County Sheriff’s Department said. They were part of a group of eight people taking a multi-day guided tour with Wallowa Alpine Huts Ski Outfitters.

Four of the tourists were were not injured and one used a cell phone to call for help. But two skiers who suffered broken bones couldn’t be airlifted as wintry weather set in late Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Emergency personnel and one of the uninjured have remained with them and the two bodies since Tuesday, the Sheriff’s department said.

“The terrain and weather have made it difficult to get equipment and personnel to the area,” the department said in a statement. “Eight inches of new snow fell in the area last night, with the possibility of more on the way.”


In Utah: A 21-year-old snowshoer died over the weekend Utah after her group of six triggered an avalanche that swept her 125 feet down a ditch and into a creek. She was submerged in the frigid waters for nearly 40 minutes. The accident came after the area’s largest snowstorm of the season, the Utah Avalanche Center reported. The center’s Brett Kobernik called it a case of “innocent ignorance.”

“I suspect no one in the party had any idea that they were in avalanche terrain,” he wrote online, noting that the snowshoers were close to a roadway. “However, all you need is a steep enough slope with snow on it and you’re in avalanche terrain, no matter how close to a road or civilization you are.”

The family of victim Ashleigh Cox said she was scheduled to graduate from Brigham Young University in the spring and had planned to pursue further studies in social work.

“She loved to work with those struggling with life’s challenges and dedicated her short life to serving others,” the family said in a statement.


In another Utah incident, a man traveling back up a mountain on his snowmobile to help stuck companions triggered a nearly eight-foot-deep avalanche that trapped only him. Three others freed 36-year-old Clint Conover within 20 minutes, but he didn’t respond to CPR and died, according to the Sanpete County Sheriff’s department. A GPS device allowed them to report their location and ask for help.

The Utah center called the avalanche an unusual circumstance caused by unseasonably low snowfall in the area that allowed the loose snow to travel quickly.

In Colorado: A snowmobile-rider on Monday in a large avalanche near Crested Butte. The individual was with another person, who managed to escape. The Gunnison County Coroner’s office has yet to release the victim’s name.

A second Colorado fatality was reported Tuesday when the body of a back-country skier was found one after his skiing partner reported him missing a day earlier. The skiers had become trapped by an avalanche with depths up to 9 feet, according to the Summit County Sheriff’s department. Search crews were unable to do anything overnight to find 46-year-old Kevin Kuybus because of low visibility.


The Colorado Avalanche Information Center continues to warn that the avalanche danger is high, the second most-serious rating, throughout much of Colorado.

During the past decade, about 28 people on average each year have died after being caught in an avalanche, according to reports tracked by the Colorado center. A dozen people have died so far this year.

The center’s Spencer Logan said record-snowfall during the past two weeks fell on top of a layer tattered with weak spots after nearly a month of dry weather. Because the snowstorms were large, the dangerous conditions have been widespread.

“Unusual weather means unusual avalanches,” Logan told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not that you can’t go out, but you have to be very careful about the places you are going.”



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