The U.S. just saw the deadliest week for avalanches in more than 100 years.
At least 15 people were killed in avalanches from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6 in Utah, Montana, Colorado, California, Arkansas and New Hampshire, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). In total, 21 people have died in avalanches across the country during the 2020-2021 season as of Monday. Last season, a total of 23 people died in avalanches and the U.S. typically sees an average of 27 deaths each year.
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Last week’s grim death total was the most in a seven-day period since March of 1910, when an avalanche swept away two trains in Wellington, Wash. and killed 96 people.
On Saturday, four skiers were killed in the backcountry of Utah’s Millcreek Canyon areas and four others were injured in a skier-triggered avalanche that occurred at an elevation of just under 10,000 feet. The fatalities tied for the highest-known death toll for an avalanche in Utah. An avalanche near Moab’s Gold Basin killed four people in 1992.
In Colorado, more than 500 avalanches have been reported since Jan. 30. One skier was killed on Thursday while skiing in Colorado’s East Vail Chutes. On Feb. 1, four backcountry skiers were buried southeast of Opihr, in an area known as The Nose. Three men were killed and one was rescued.
Ethan Greene, director of the CAIC, said early season snowfall followed by drought — and very little snow — created unstable accumulations of packed snow.
“Every time we get another snow or wind event and we put more weight on the snowpack, we get avalanches,” Greene told The Denver Channel.
“And just because that underlying weak layer — the snow that fell in October — is now really, really weak, those avalanches are both very easy to trigger and they’re also breaking very wide across terrain features,” Greene told the outlet.
Greene also said he suspects the COVID-19 pandemic could be driving more people to engage in recreation outdoors, however, there’s no definite link between that and the increase in deaths.
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