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US avalanche fatalities on the rise

Alaska Dispatch

Avalanche deaths have been steadily rising in the U.S. over the last 60 years as more outdoor enthusiasts head into the wilderness, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The top eight winters for avalanche deaths have all been recorded since 1995, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Thirty-four fatalities were recorded in the U.S. last winter, while so far in the 2012-13 season, two people have died in avalanches, both in California.

In Alaska alone, more than thirty people have died in avalanches in the last ten years. Six people perished last winter, including a group of Japanese climbers who died scaling Mt.McKinley.

John Snook, a forecaster with the Colorado center, told the Los Angeles Times that the increased fatalities are due to increased popularity of backcountry activities, and not because conditions have become more dangerous.

"If you look really carefully at the number of fatalities versus the number of people going out into the backcountry, it's probably holding stable or even going down." Snook told the LA Times.

He also cited advances in equipment technology that has allowed more people of varying fitness levels to travel farther up mountains, exposing them to areas of higher avalanche potential.

Southcentral Alaska has seen a wave of avalanche warnings in recent weeks, and Sunday's conditions are no exception. In the Turnagain area, avalanche danger is high, both above and below the treeline. This is due to a storm passing through Southcentral, bringing warmer temperatures and rain.

Updated avalanche information in Southcentral available the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center’s website.

Read more, at the LA Times.