Colorado avalanche deaths rise to 9 after deadly weekend on the slopes

Heavy wet snow in Colorado’s high mountain backcountry led to snow slides that caught six skiers since Friday, burying two, leading to two deaths – raising total avalanche fatalities in the state this past winter to nine.

The latest fatality happened Sunday afternoon when a skier died in an avalanche near the Aspen Highlands Ski Resort – an avalanche about 200 feet wide that exploded from the upper face of a loaded slope downward 2,000 feet, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office statement.

Two other skiers caught up in that avalanche managed to escape and were rescued, one by helicopter.

On Friday in Gunnison County, Joel Shute, 36, a Glenwood Springs resident, was killed – buried in four feet of snow – after an avalanche in the Rapid Creek area near Marble, Gunnison County authorities said. Two others caught in that avalanche escaped, and one was able to hike out and get help, leading to a helicopter rescue.

Avalanches this past winter have swept up a total of 18 people in Colorado, including 12 skiers, 1 snowboarder, and 3 snowmobilers, burying 11, according to accident reports filed with the Colorado Avalanche Information center.

The nine deaths this past winter bring the total killed by avalanches in Colorado to 28 since 2020, CIAC records show.

Around the United States, records show avalanches over the past decade have caused an average of 27 deaths a year.

Avalanches occur naturally in the Rocky Mountains when unstable base layers of snow give way and massive amounts plunge downward. Government agencies increasingly issue warnings as more people head to mountain backcountry areas during winter.

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