Three dead as avalanche hits Washington ski resort
Published 20/02/2012 | 07:46
THREE male skiers have been killed in the US after an avalanche struck a popular ski resort in Washington on Sunday.
The men, believed to be in their thirties and forties, were skiing in an out-of-bounds location near the Stevens Pass ski zone in the Cascade Mountains, when the snow slip hit. Snow also fell on a road, two miles from the resort.
Eight others were initially reported missing but were later "accounted for", a spokesman for the King County sheriff's office said.
US authorities were alerted to the incident shortly after noon local time.
Heavy snowfall of around 30 to 35 inches is believed to have triggered the slide, with avalanche warnings issued above 5,000 feet and “considerable” danger listed at lower altitudes.
At mid-afternoon, the temperature at the base of the ski resort was 24 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 4 Celsius), with light winds and good visibility. The temperature at the top of the mountain was 22 degrees F (minus 6 C), according to the resort's website.
John Gifford, general manager at the Stevens Pass ski area, said the resort has received 19 inches of snow in the past 24 hours. However, he said it wasn't snowing there Sunday afternoon, 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.
Four people disappeared in vicious storms while camping and climbing on Mount Rainier last month. The four remain missing, and authorities have said they're hoping to find their bodies when the snow melts this summer.
Across the West, there had been 13 avalanche deaths this season as of Feb. 16, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks avalanche deaths in the U.S.
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 for riding at ski resorts, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.
A snowboarder was also killed in a separate incident at the Alpental ski area east of Seattle after plunging over a cliff.