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Colorado most dangerous state in nation for avalanche fatalities

Avalanches in the state have already claimed the lives of three people this winter, a somber reminder of the risks that hikers, skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers face in the Colorado mountains.

In the United States, 514 avalanche fatalities were reported in 15 states from 1950 to 1997. Colorado has the dubious distinction of claiming about one third of those deaths, said Richard Armstrong, a glaciologist and avalanche expert at the CU-headquartered National Snow and Ice Data Center.

"In looking at the long-term statistics on avalanche fatalities, Colorado has about twice the number people killed than Alaska, the next highest-ranking state," he said. "While there is a lot of variability in avalanche fatalities from year to year, we have the dubious distinction of leading the nation."

Each year avalanches claim more than 150 lives worldwide. The numbers have steadily increased over the past few decades with the increased popularity of winter sports such as backcountry skiing and snowmobiling, said Armstrong. To assist with preparedness, the NSIDC has posted avalanche awareness information on its Internet home page at: http://www-nsidc.colorado.edu/NSIDC/EDUCATION/AVALANCHE/.

The site discusses avalanche basics such as ways to evaluate snowpack stability, recognize danger signals and evaluate survival gear. It also offers links to related sources, said NSIDC Outreach Coordinator Annette Varani.

Following is a short summary of avalanche information posted by NSIDC, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. CIRES is a joint venture of CU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

* According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, 89 percent of avalanche victims are men and most victims are between the ages of 20-29. About 75 percent are experienced backcountry recreationists. Climbers, backcountry skiers and snowmobilers are by far the
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Contact: Richard Armstrong
armstrong@kryos.colorado.edu
303-492-1828
University of Colorado at Boulder
27-Dec-1999


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