According to the Washington State Emergency Management Division, more people have died in Washington due to avalanches than in any other natural event. More than earthquakes, landslides, flooding, severe storm, or wildfire. In fact, more than 195 people have died from avalanches.
How does an avalanche form?
Avalanches happen after layers of snow begin to give way to gravity and lose grip on the slope of a mountain. On average about 1-2 people die each year from avalanches in Washington State. Sadly, as you’ll learn later in this article, we’ve already had three fatalities from Avalanche in 2023. Most of these deaths happen in remote areas where there are no avalanche control measures by the state – cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, climbing, hiking, and hunting in vulnerable areas. With all the snow that’s been falling in the Cascades this last week, it’s not surprising the pass has been closed at various times for avalanche control.
Most recently, on February 19th (last week) while a group of six climbers was attempting to scale Colchuck Peak near Leavenworth a slab of snow came loose and created an avalanche that carried four of the climbers 500 feet. Three of the climbers were killed and one sustained serious injuries. The two remaining climbers attempted to remove the injured climber and those that perished but were unsuccessful. Recovery efforts continue as of this writing.
In January of 2023, a group of 8 snowmobile riders departed the Mt. Marble SnoPark on Mt. St. Helens. The lead rider triggered an avalanche that carried him down the mountain and buried him under 6-8 feet of snow. The other riders converged on the area and located the covered victim and dug him out. He was not breathing at first but suddenly gasped for air and began breathing normally. He was taken to an area hospital for monitoring. His snowmobile was located 10 feet under the snow in the same area. You can read more about these events and many other avalanche accidents that have happened this year and other years at the Northwest Avalanche Accident Summary Page.
Avalanche season begins in November and surprisingly, lasts into the early summer months. Some high-elevation peaks experience avalanches all year.
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