26. Dead.

26. Dead.

We venture out to play in the snow for fun. This year, fun has proven fatal much too often. As of today, 26 people have died in avalanches this winter in North America – 13 in the U.S. and 13 in Canada. The latest fatalities occurred yesterday when avalanche buried five snowmobilers. Three were found and dug out by fellow snowmobilers, but two died in the slide. That brings B.C.'s avalanche fatalities to 11 – one was a skier at Whistler-Blackcomb, the rest were snowmobilers. In the states, there have been 13 deaths, including an unprecedented 3 fatalities at in-bounds areas of established ski resorts. Its unusual to have a single avalanche death in-bounds, but to have three totally separate incidents in one year is unheard of. But it  happened this year: at Squaw Valley in California, at Snowbird in Utah and at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In 1976, there were also three in-bound avalanche deaths, but those were all caught in a single slide. Part of the problem this winter is that the entire continent has experienced unusual weather. Here in the northwest, we had a late start to winter, but by mid-December, we had a deep, light snowpack forming. The we got heavy windstorms and lots of wind-loading of slopes, followed by warm temperatures and torrential rains. Part of the problem is a casualness and carelessness about snow safety. I'm no expert, but when experienced ski patrollers are getting caught in slides, either there's something new afoot in the world of slides, or someone is getting a little lax in their safety precautions. For recreationists , there are an array of new tools available to help predict avalanche conditions so really there is little excuse for being unprepared. One great new on-line tool was put up by a friend, Steve Casimiro of National Geographic ADVENTURE. The one-click avalanche tool is available at: http://www.theadventurelife.org/archives/1390 While you are there, check out his blog: it's a work of art.
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