Abstract

A headline in The Rocky Mountain News on 2 January 2006 read “Avalanche kills 2 snowmobilers.” A full-page color photo accompanied the article which, unfortunately, was not describing an uncommon event. Snow slides or avalanches kill between 150 and 200 people every year around the world, and many more are injured. Combine an average of 2300 snow avalanches in the Colorado mountains every winter with increasingly popular winter tourism, and it is no surprise that Colorado has more avalanche fatalities than the next two states (Alaska and Washington) combined. Avalanches not only bury people, but they close roads (sometimes with snow more than 50 ft deep for 1000 ft along the road) for days at a time, and they damage facilities (such as the 2003 avalanche that destroyed a water treatment plant and closed a major interstate highway for several days). During the 2004–2005 winter in Colorado, 2985 avalanches buried nearly six miles of highway; 76 people were reportedly caught in the snow slides, resulting in 5 deaths (a below average number), according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, a program of the Colorado Geological Survey.

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