Around this time every year hundreds of people travel to the mountains in Colorado to partake in the popular sports of skiing and snowboarding. However, just like with every sport, these activities include risks, some of which are deadlier than other sports because of the chance that the mountains will spew forth snow like angry waves; too often avalanches in this state kill people.
On Saturday, seven skiers went up on the slopes in Lake County east of Aspen, Colorado and encountered much more than aching muscles and the cold. The elevation in this rugged landscape is around 11,000 feet, but the area includes several 14,000 foot mountains. Out of the group of seven skiers, two are missing, three are injured, and two are unhurt. The three who are harmed were taken to the hospital immediately; between all of them the wounds included a broken leg, broken ankle, a collapsed lung, and possibly a broken rib.
The skiers were wearing emergency beacons that may enable a search and rescue team to find the missing skiers, but the team is unsure if they will still be alive. The team set out on Sunday morning in winds blowing at least 30 miles per hour and said the terrain was “very, very steep,” there is also a chance of more slides in the near future. The rescue team, which is the state’s rapid avalanche deployment group, said that it would take several hours to find the missing people and must work while it is daylight. They will evaluate how safe the area is and create a plan to find the missing skiers.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center gave warnings for much of Colorado’s ski and snowboarding country for the entirety of this weekend to stem the amount of people killed by avalanches. There are “unusual conditions” in the Rocky Mountains right now because of frail layers under the top surface of the snow, quick warming, and powerful winds that can generate sudden, uncommon falls of snow. These slides do not just take out unsuspecting skiers, but anything that lies in its wake. Large avalanches have taken out centuries-old trees, mines that are decades old, and buried roads with sometimes 20 feet of wreckage. A recent deluge of snow-storms in this state has increased the danger in the region.
Avalanches killed two people elsewhere in Colorado this last week as well as two people in Utah and Oregon. On Tuesday in the mountains in the east of Oregon an avalanche caught eight skiers unawares, killing two and injuring two others. A 46-year-old skier, Keven Kuybus, was found dead after a slide hit him in Colorado. Avalanches are always a danger in the snowiest months in the mountainous states, but this year dangerous conditions are forming on the border of New Mexico to Wyoming.
For those who might now know, an avalanche is merely a quick gush of snow down a hill or mountain, and mostly occur in the months of December to April, although they can happen during the other months as well. If the temperature stays low, the snow sticks to the top layer of snow and will not slough off. When the temperature warms, the top layer can slide off, creating an avalanche. There are three main parts to an avalanche: the starting zone, avalanche track, and run-out zone. The starting zone is the most unstable area because snow can slide off more easily there, at the top of the peak. The avalanche track is the path that the slide takes down the mountain once it begins, and the run-out zone is where the snow stops.
To keep safe in the mountains, it is crucial to check the conditions at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center before heading to the slopes. It is also important to pay attention to the terrain at all times, to carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe. Helmets can protect against head injuries as well. Avalanches remain a testament to the power of weather in Colorado and elsewhere with their ability to kill lives.
By Rachel Fike