Avalanches Could Get Worse Soon, Colorado Warns

Three skiers have been killed since Friday
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 22, 2020 4:25 PM CST
Avalanches Could Get Worse Soon, Colorado Warns
Ophir Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.   (Getty/Rockin-G_Enterprises)

The deaths of three people in two Colorado avalanches since Friday have experts warning those headed to the mountainous backcountry to be careful and pay attention to forecasts. A rescue team on Sunday recovered the bodies of two skiers caught in an avalanche a day earlier near Ophir Pass in southwestern Colorado's San Juan Mountains, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management said. Albert Perry, 55, and Dr. Jeff Paffendorf, 51, both of nearby Durango, were reported missing after heading out for a ski trip north of Silverton, a former mining town and recreational hub nestled in the mountains, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Their deaths were the second and third of the ski season, the AP reports. The first was on Friday when a skier was buried in an avalanche in the Anthracite Range west of the ski resort town of Crested Butte, the center said.

Center director Ethan Greene said Sunday that 132 avalanches have been reported since Friday and that Colorado's snowpack is the weakest it has been since 2012. "People need to recognize we have unusual conditions and their usual practices may not keep them out of harm's way," he said. "As we gain more snow in the coming weeks, avalanches could become even more dangerous." On Monday, the center rated the avalanche danger in all of Colorado's mountain zones as considerable, the middle ranking in its warning system, below extreme and high. Snowfall in the mountains is below average so far. Avalanches lately have been mostly small—though easy to trigger—but their size is expected to grow as more snow rolls in, the center said in a warning.

(More avalanche stories.)

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