Emergency officials work near Stevens Pass ski resort in Skykomish, Washington, on 19 February 2012, after an avalanche killed three skiers. Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times

By Hector Becerra
28 December 2012

(Los Angeles Times) – A Lake Tahoe-area resort ski patrol member for nearly 30 years, Bill Foster would have understood the dangers of avalanches better than most. But even knowing the exact date and time of a planned avalanche didn't save the 53-year-old's life.

Moments after another member of the ski team set off an avalanche with explosives late Monday morning as part of an effort to reduce the risk of an unpredictable avalanche, Foster was buried in Alpine Meadows. He had taken cover in an area that history had suggested would be safe from the rolling snow.

Instead, the tsunami-like wave of snow crested higher and wider than expected, overwhelming Foster. He was uncovered within minutes, and ski patrol members performed CPR on him, but they weren't able to save him. His death came on the same day that the body of a 49-year-old snowboarder, Steven Mark Anderson of Truckee, was found by a sheriff's search dog at the Donner Ski Ranch in Nevada County after an avalanche.

California has a far less fearsome reputation for avalanches than states like Colorado, Montana, Utah, Idaho and Alaska. But the two deaths — the first of the U.S.' winter season — were a stark reminder that danger lurks.

In the last 60 years, avalanche deaths have risen dramatically, largely, some experts say, because of the growing popularity of backcountry skiing and hiking, snowboarding and other activities in places that are prone to avalanches. Last winter 34 fatalities were recorded in the U.S., and the top eight years for avalanche deaths have all been recorded since 1995, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Most of the deaths since 1950 have involved people from ages 16 to 45, presumably the fittest and most likely to partake in physical activities like skiing and backcountry hiking. California recorded two avalanche fatalities last year, compared with seven for Colorado, six for Alaska, six for Montana, five for Utah and four each for Washington and Wyoming.

In the 2009-10 season, when the U.S. tallied 36 avalanche deaths, none happened in California, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. But four people died in California in the 2007-08 season, when 36 people in the U.S. perished in avalanches. […]

Avalanche deaths rise dramatically in U.S. over long term

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