May 3, 2023 - News

Colorado avalanche deaths near record high in 2022-23 season

Colorado Avalanche Information Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

Colorado's mercurial snowpack is making this winter one of the deadliest of all time.

Driving the news: 11 people have died in avalanches in Colorado's backcountry so far in the 2022-23 season β€” tied for the second most since records began in 1951, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

  • The most recent fatal slide Saturday buried 31-year-old Littleton skier Benjamin Ryan on Bald Mountain near Breckenridge. Wind-drifted snow at 13,200 feet broke loose and gathered heavy wet snow, running 1,300 feet down the mountain face.

By the numbers: The most deadly avalanche years came in 1993 and 2021, when 12 people died. This season's number ties the 1983 and 2013 death totals.

Yes, but: The spring backcountry skiing and climbing season is far from over, with the state's snowpack well above the median in late April, according to OpenSnow meteorologist Joel Gratz.

What they're saying: "Over the last few weeks, things have gotten quite a bit better, but that doesn't mean there's no avalanches," the avalanche center's director, Ethan Greene, told Axios Denver. "Every time we have snow on an inclined surface, we have the potential for avalanches."

Be smart: For much of the season, dangerous backcountry conditions β€” caused by a weak layer of early-season snow β€” prompted unusually dire warnings from state officials.

  • Right now, the avalanche danger is moderate for the entire state, but late April storm drifts and wet spring snow are making exploring treacherous, particularly later in the day as temperatures warm, forecasters say.

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