Experts Issue Warnings After 3 Skiers Die in Colorado Avalanches – The New York Times

The deaths of three skiers in two avalanches since late last week have prompted state and local authorities in Colorado to warn people visiting mountainous backcountry areas to monitor forecasts and to be careful.

“When recreating in the backcountry it is critical to check the current avalanche condition,” DeAnne Gallegos, a spokeswoman for the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management, said on Tuesday.

She said that people could get the latest forecasts by visiting the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s website, which shares color-coded avalanche warnings from across the state.

Ms. Gallegos said that hikers, snowmobilers, and backcountry and nordic skiers should always carry emergency equipment, like a beacon, shovel and probe, “and be hyper aware of the mountainous terrain around you.”

She added, “Mother Nature is in charge when you live, work and play in the mountains.”

On Sunday afternoon, a rescue team recovered the bodies of two backcountry skiers who had been reported missing the night before. The Avalanche Information Center said in a preliminary report that the pair had planned to ski in an area known as the Battleship, which is southeast of Ophir Pass in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.

Officials said the skiers had been caught and buried in an avalanche. The San Juan County coroner, Keri Metzler, identified them as Albert Perry, 55, and Dr. Jeff Paffendorf, 51, both of Durango, Colo.

Ms. Gallegos said their beacons helped other members of their party find their bodies.

“All of the agencies would like to extend their condolences to the Perry and Paffendorf families,” the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management said in a statement.

They were the state’s second and third fatalities of the 2020-21 ski season, according to the Avalanche Information Center.

On Friday, a solo skier died after he was buried in an avalanche at the northeastern end of the Anthracite Range in the Rocky Mountains west of Crested Butte, Colo., according to the center.

The avalanche happened on a northeast-facing slope at an elevation of about 10,500 feet, the group said. The Crested Butte Ski Patrol identified the skier as Jeff Schneider, a ski patroller based in Crested Butte.

“Jeff was a bastion of kindness, knowledge, hard work, wit, and humor,” the ski patrol said in a statement on Facebook, adding that “adventure had no better emissary.”

Six people were killed in avalanches in Colorado during the 2019-20 season.

There have been 244 avalanche deaths in the United States in the last 10 ski seasons, according to the National Ski Areas Association, a trade organization for ski area owners and operators.

The majority of avalanches occur in the backcountry, or terrain outside a ski area’s operating boundary, the association said. Backcountry skiers should always ski or ride with a partner, the group said.

“People need to recognize we have unusual conditions and their usual practices may not keep them out of harm’s way,” Ethan Greene, the director of the Avalanche Information Center, said in a statement. There had been 132 avalanches reported in the state since Friday, he said.

“As we gain more snow in the coming weeks, avalanches could become even more dangerous,” he said.


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