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Avalanches Claim Four Lives In The Rockies

An investigator is examining the snow pack of an avalanche on a mountain.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Investigators examined the crown face on a recent avalanche in Colorado that buried and killed a skier.

Avalanches in the Rocky Mountains killed four people late last week, three in Colorado and one in Wyoming. Drew Hardesty is with the Utah Avalanche Center. He says it's been a fairly dry early season for many states around the West.

That's leading to a thin snowpack, which means dangerous conditions.

“When there's not that much snow on the ground out there it becomes weak and sugary and cohesionless, and with subsequent storms, those new storms easily overwhelm that weak preexisting snow pack,” Hardesty said.

He says the stakes are high for everyone wanting to go on a backcountry trip.

“Avalanches are what we call equal opportunity killers,” he said.

Hardesty says it's critical for those going out to know what they're doing. At a bare minimum, people should learn how to operate rescue equipment like a shovel, a beacon, and an avalanche airbag. He also recommends not to go alone.

“And also get a partner,” he said. “Many of these fatalities occur when either people don't have a partner or they don't know how to use the rescue gear.”

But Hardesty says it is extremely important to be able to recognize unstable snowpack.

“If they're seeing avalanches running, if they're seeing shooting cracks, the thunderous and audible collapse, these are clear signs of danger,” he said.

Hardesty says avalanche fatalities average 24 every season, many in the Mountain West.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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