Three dead in US ski resort avalanche


An avalanche near a popular ski resort in Washington state has killed three people.

John Gifford, general manager at the Stevens Pass ski area, said he was unsure how many people were caught up in yesterday’s slide, or whether there were additional injuries. But he said eight people initially reported missing had been accounted for.

Stevens Pass is in the Cascade Mountains, about 130km north east of Seattle. The avalanche occurred in an out-of-bounds area at the back of the resort.

Sgt Cindi West of King County Sheriff’s Office said police began receiving word about the slide just after noon local time.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Centre issued a warning for high avalanche danger for areas above 1,500m, saying warmer weather could loosen surface snow and trigger a slide on steeper slopes. The elevation of the avalanche was not immediately clear.

At mid-afternoon, the temperature at the base of the ski resort was minus 4 degrees, with light winds and good visibility. The temperature at the top of the mountain was minus 6 degrees, according to the resort’s web site.

Mr Gifford said the resort had received 48cm (19in) of snow in the past 24 hours. However, he said it was not snowing there yesterday and he had no details about the slide.

Stevens Pass is one of the most popular outdoor recreation areas in the state, with visitors flocking there to go cross-country, back-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowshoeing and backpacking.

Meanwhile, a snowboarder was killed in a separate incident at the Alpental ski area east of Seattle yesterday after going over a cliff.

It has been a deadly winter in Washington’s mountains. Four people disappeared in vicious storms while camping and climbing on Mount Rainier last month. The four remain missing, and authorities have said they are hoping to find their bodies when the snow melts this summer.

Across the West, there had been 13 avalanche deaths this season as of February 16th, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Centre, which tracks avalanche deaths in the US

Experts have said the risk of additional slides could remain high all season. They attribute the dangers in part to a weak base layer of snow caused by a dry winter.

Avalanche deaths are more common in the backcountry than at ski resorts. Out of about 900 avalanche deaths nationwide since the winter of 1950-51, 32 were within terrain that was open skiing, according to the Utah Avalanche Centre.