The USA has experienced 16 avalanche deaths in the past 60 days. This is actually about average for this time of year, but it’s caught the attention of the nation. In the past few days, both the Chicago Times and USA Today have covered the seemingly large amount of avalanche deaths in the USA.
The first avalanche deaths of the this winter occurred on December 26th, 2013 and the most recent occurred on February 18th, 2014.
On average, 28 people die in avalanches in the USA each year. Scary to think that it’s likely that 12 more people may die in avalanches in the USA this winter. The worst avalanche fatality years both had 36 deaths and both occurred since 2007.
Here’s one very interesting fact from the USA Today article:
“Avalanches are particularly deadly in the Pacific Northwest: Of all the types of natural disasters in Washington state, avalanches kill more people than any other, based on data from 1950 to the present from the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.” – USA Today
Why are there more avalanche deaths in the USA these days?
“A big factor in the spate of deaths in the last month is an explosion of activity in the backcountry. Bigger, fatter skis and lighter, faster snowmobiles mean you can go anywhere, even into harm’s way.” – Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association
In the past 45 years, avalanche deaths in USA have been steadily going up. In the 1950’s, only about 4 people died in avalanche per year.
by Denver Health Medical Center
A total of 440 victims were killed in 324 fatal avalanches, of which 87.7% were fully buried, 4.7% were partially buried, and 7.6% were not buried. The average age was 27.6 +/- 10.6 years, and 87.3% were men. Victims who died included climbers (25.5%), backcountry skiers (22.7%), out-of-bounds skiers (10.0%), snowmobilers (6.8%), in-bounds skiers (5.2%), residents (4.5%), ski patrollers (3.6%), workers (3.6%), and motorists (3.0%). Over the 45-year study period there appear to be decreases in the deaths of in-bounds skiers, highway workers, and motorists. Increasing fatalities were observed among out-of-bounds skiers, snowmobilers, ski patrollers, and backcountry skiers. Most deaths occurred in Colorado (33.0%), Washington (13.2%), and Alaska (12.0%).
Avalanche fatalities have increased over the last 45 years. Climbers, backcountry skiers, out-of-bounds skiers, and more recently snowmobilers constitute the majority of the victims. The decrease in deaths among groups that benefit from avalanche control programs supports the benefit of avalanche prevention strategies. Further study is needed to assess the impact of avalanche safety education for individuals who travel in remote and uncontrolled terrain.