Yesterday, a few hours after we let you know about an avalanche near Keystone that killed a backcountry skier, Governor John Hickenlooper issued a warning about the danger of such slides -- and no wonder. Not only have two people in Colorado died in avalanches over recent days , but the fatality total is six when incidents from two other states are added. And in one of those tragedies, the person who passed away was Colorado Springs college student Ashleigh Cox, seen here. Photos, details and the Hickenlooper statement below.
In addition to the Keystone-area slide, another avalanche took place on Monday in the vicinity of Kebler Pass, west of Crested Butte.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, whose photos and captions appear here, two snowmobilers were caught in the slide, which occurred on a south and southeast-facing slope below the treeline.
The CAIC estimates that the avalanche was 600 feet wide, with a crown averaging three feet in depth; it ran 750 vertical feet into the bottom of a valley, where debris piled up to twenty feet in height.
One snowmobiler was partially buried, but managed to survive. His companion wasn't so fortunate: He was killed.
The latter fate also befell Ashleigh Cox, 21. KOAA-TV reports that she graduated from Doherty High School in Colorado Springs before attending Brigham Young University.
On Saturday at about 5:40 p.m., Cox and some friends were reportedly snowshoeing in Utah's American Fork Canyon, not far from the Tibble Fork Reservoir, when an avalanche struck. Cox wound up being pushed into a creek, with the snow overhead holding her underwater.
Continue for more about the six recent avalanche deaths in western states, including an additional photo and the Hickenlooper statement. Cox was ultimately rescued, but not before approximately forty minutes had passed. Afterward, she was rushed to a nearby hospital, but failed to respond to treatment. The following day, she was taken off life support, with her parents issuing a statement that read in part, "It has been difficult for us to handle the sudden loss of our daughter. Our faith in God has and will continue to help us through this difficult time. She will be missed. Ashleigh planned to graduate from BYU this spring and wanted to further her education in social work. She loved to work with those struggling with life's challenges and dedicated her short life to serving others."
Other families are going through similar grief. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, the two deaths in Colorado, along with Cox's in Utah, have been matched by three additional fatalities. In a separate Utah incident, Clint Conover, 36, was killed by an avalanche as he piloted his snowmobile to an area where some of his other companions were stuck. And in Oregon, two cross-country skiers died in an avalanche that struck in the southern Wallowa Mountains near Cornucopia around noon on Tuesday, February 11.
Here's the avalanche warning offered by Governor John Hickenlooper:
Gov. John Hickenlooper joined the Colorado Avalanche Information Center today to ask Coloradans to heed warnings of high avalanche danger in many parts of the backcountry. Four people have died in avalanches so far this season in Colorado and heavy mountain snowfall continues to create hazardous conditions.
"We understand Coloradans love for the outdoors in all seasons. We want to encourage backcountry travelers to pay close attention to warnings from the Avalanche Information Center," Hickenlooper said. "Conditions in the backcountry this winter are dangerous and exercising common sense caution can prevent tragedy."
Hickenlooper was briefed today on conditions by CAIC Director Ethan Greene and Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King. Separate avalanches on Monday killed two people and significant snowfall continues to create high-risk conditions.
"We want people to enjoy the spectacular recreation Colorado offers, but we also want people to pay close attention to conditions," Hickenlooper said. "Another day or another route might be a better option."
The latest advisory from the CAIC calls for "cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making. Travel in or below avalanche terrain is not recommended."
"Following a period of prolonged heavy snowfall, deeply buried persistent weak layers are at a tipping point," the advisory says. "Several very large avalanches have been triggered by backcountry travelers and explosives. Veteran snow professionals are reporting triggered avalanches in well documented avalanche paths that are breaking mature timber and behaving in surprising ways."
Those surprises include avalanches breaking into multiple avalanche paths and large amounts of snow in the lower portion of the avalanche path creating avalanches with greater mass, Greene said.
There are numerous resources for backcountry recreationalists to consult when considering activities. The primary location for avalanche warnings and forecasts is the CAIC website. The CAIC also communicates through Twitter, with handles associated with all major mountain regions. Those handles are: Steamboat and Flat Tops @CAICsteamboat; Front Range @CAICfrontrange; Vail and Summit County @CAICsummit; Sawatch Range @CAICsawatch; Aspen @CAICaspen; Gunnison @CAICgunnison; Grand Mesa @CAICgrandmesa; Northern San Juan @CAICnthsanjuan; Southern San Juan @CAICsthsanjuan; and Sangre de Cristo @CAICsangrecrist.
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More from our News archive: "Photos: Skier killed after double avalanche near Keystone."