The bodies of two skiers who went missing during an avalanche were found this morning in the back country near Leadville, Colorado. Five others from their group were rescued on Saturday and taken to the Leadville hospital suffering from injuries including broken legs, ankles and ribs, as well as a collapsed lung. Two of the skiers escaped the incident unharmed, and one was released from the hospital today. The remaining 2 survivors have been moved to other medical facilities.
Rescuers braved 30 mph winds, a “very, very steep” terrain and the danger of an additional avalanche to recover the bodies from Star Mountain near Independence Pass, according to emergency management spokeswoman Susan Matthews. The team was aided in the recovery by the emergency beacons that were worn by the skiers. The names of those involved have not yet been released by authorities, although The Denver Post reports that the two who were killed were male.
Counting these most recent deaths, eight people have died in avalanches in the past week in the western United States. Previous fatalities include two others in Colorado and two each in Utah and Oregon. The latest incident this weekend happened under warnings of dangerous conditions by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The CAIC Website warns: “Backcountry avalanche conditions are very dangerous this weekend. We are in the midst of an historic avalanche cycle. Destructive natural avalanches are possible on isolated slopes and human-triggered avalanches are likely on all steep slopes.” Those warnings remained in effect on Sunday.
For those who live or vacation in areas of the world where winter sports are popular, getting caught in an avalanche is a very real concern. More than 150 people die each year as a result of avalanches and, in Colorado alone, there have been 14 deaths this season (2013-2014) and 24 deaths the previous year (2012-2013).
The first step to avoid getting caught in an avalanche is simple: Heed the warnings. If the avalanche risk is high in a certain area, stay away from that area. Secondly, always carry an avalanche beacon. This will help rescuers find you in the snow before they start digging, and will greatly increase your chance of survival.
So, what if the worst happens and you are caught in an actual avalanche? According to the website TheClymb, there are several things you can do to help ensure survival:
- Move sideways, away from the center of the mass of moving snow. The fastest moving snow will be in the middle of the mass.
- If you are skiing or snowboarding, you might be the one to start the slide. In that case, try to jump upslope, away from, and above the fracture line in the snow.
- In smaller slides, grab onto something like a tree or a rock.
- If you find yourself caught up in the flow, use your swimming skills. Keep your head up in the air and surf in the direction the fastest snow is headed.
- If you find yourself buried in the snow, dig an air pocket out around your mouth to enable yourself to breathe. Also, before the slide stops, fill your lungs with air and expand your chest. That will give you room to inhale once the movement has stopped.
By Chuck Podhaisky
The Denver Post