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Avalanche Deaths Have Declined In the West

Avalanche on Mt. Timpanogos, Utah
Greg L. Wright
CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons
Avalanche on Mt. Timpanogos, Utah

There’s some apparent good news for backcountry adventurers in the West this winter: the number of avalanche deaths is declining.

The Colorado Sun first reported this trend. Reporter Jason Blevins says with population growth in the West and increased interest in backcountry snow sports, one would expect the rate of avalanche fatalities to grow.

“But, in fact, there’s a downward trend,” Blevins said. “You’re seeing, overall across the west, an 8 percent decline in avalanche fatalities between 2008 and 2018.”

Blevins got this data from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which collects information on all avalanche-related deaths in the country. The Center’s director, Ethan Greene, said the decline is due in part to several preventative measures, like better forecasting, better public safety, and better education programs.

The people behind these programs, Greene said, "have been working together for the past 15 years in a very concerted effort to try to reduce the number of deaths.”

Still, Greene said one big avalanche in the region could easily skew these numbers.

To avoid this, backcountry recreators need to be prepared. The most important things to remember, Greene said, “are to get the forecast, get some training and carry proper rescue equipment.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2021 KRCC. To see more, visit KRCC.

Ali Budner is KRCC's reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism collaborative that unites six stations across the Mountain West, including stations in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana to better serve the people of the region. The project focuses its reporting on topic areas including issues of land and water, growth, politics, and Western culture and heritage.