Avalanche kills 3 in Washington state

2012-02-20 11:02
Seattle - An avalanche near a popular ski resort in Washington state killed three people on Sunday, and all those initially reported as missing have been accounted for, a resort official said.

John Gifford, general manager at the Stevens Pass ski area, said he's unsure how many people were caught up in the slide, or whether there were additional injuries. But he said the death toll remains at three.

The King County Sheriff's Office earlier said as many as eight people were missing after the avalanche.

Sergeant Cindi West said her office began receiving word about the slide just after noon. Stevens Pass is in the Cascade Mountains, about 130km northeast of Seattle.

The avalanche occurred in an out-of-bounds area on the back side of the resort.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Centre on Sunday 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 wasn't immediately clear.

At mid-afternoon, the temperature at the base of the ski resort was -4°, with light winds and good visibility. The temperature at the top of the mountain was -6°, according to the resort's website.

Deadly winter

Gifford said the resort has received 48cm of snow in the past 24 hours. However, he said it wasn't snowing there on 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.

It's 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'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 February 16, 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 for riding at ski resorts, according to the Utah Avalanche Centre.

Also on Sunday, West said a snowboarder was killed in a separate incident at the Alpental ski area east of Seattle. The snowboarder went over a cliff. No other details were available.

Read more on:    us  |  natural disasters

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