Mar 3, 2022 - News

This is a deadly year for snowshoers in Colorado's mountains

Data: CAIC; Chart: John Frank/Axios
Data: CAIC; Chart: John Frank/Axios

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.

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.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.


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