This is a deadly year for snowshoers in Colorado's mountains
Colorado is counting far fewer fatalities this avalanche season compared to last year's record-tying mark, but an insidious statistic is inciting alarm.
Driving the news: This is the deadliest winter for snowshoers in well more than a decade.
Three snowshoers and three dogs have been killed in two avalanches so far this season, the most recent ones recorded last Friday
- The only other recorded avalanche death of a snowshoer in the last 13 years occurred on New Year's Eve in 2014, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Why it matters: The fear of avalanches often is attached to extreme sports, such as snowmobiling, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, and not hiking in the snow.
- But the danger applies to everyone who recreates in Colorado's mountains.
- It's particularly true for snowshoeing, which often takes place on trails along creeks at the base of steep hills.
What they're saying: "Regardless of what you're doing, if you're in the mountains in the winter time, if you're around steep, snow-covered slopes, there's a potential for avalanches," avalanche center director Ethan Greene tells us.
Threat level: This year's snow levels are at historic averages, but prolonged periods of limited snow followed by big storms is creating instability in the base layers.
- The ebbs and flows are slightly less pronounced than a year ago, however, which is leading to a less deadly season.
Zoom in: The two fatal snowshoe events this year are different but shared one commonality.
- "These folks, to the best of our knowledge, didn't understand the hazard they were subjecting themselves to," Greene says.
The big picture: So far this season, five people have died in avalanches, near the 10-year average of six.
- The 12 deaths in the 2020-21 season tied for the most avalanche fatalities in the last century.
Details: Two snowshoers and a dog were caught, buried and killed in an avalanche Jan. 8 on a steep, wind-loaded slope near treeline on North Star Mountain near Hoosier Pass.
- It ran 100 vertical feet and extended 370 feet wide with a debris field averaging six feet deep, according to an investigation.
- Hannah Nash, 25, and Drake Oversen, 35, both of Colorado Springs, and their dog died.
- The avalanche forecast was rated "considerable" danger that day.
What's more: The most recent fatal slide occurred at Lower Yule Creek near Marble as a group of four people and two dogs traveled on an unmaintained road to a backcountry home.
- The avalanche was triggered on a road that cut mid-slope along the steep side of a gully and ran 250 vertical feet at 50 feet wide, a preliminary report shows.
- Two people were partially buried and able to dig themselves out. One person and two dogs died, officials say.
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