Three people have been killed by an avalanche in Washington just after noon today
SEATTLE (AP) – All those who were missing after an avalanche Sunday near a popular ski resort in Washington state have been accounted for, and the total number of people killed remains at three, a resort official said.
John Gifford, general manager at the Stevens Pass ski area, says he’s unsure how many people were caught up in the slide, or whether there were additional injuries. But he said the death toll remains at three.
The King County Sheriff’s Office earlier said as many as eight people were missing after the avalanche.
Sgt. Cindi West said her office began receiving word about the slide just after noon. Stevens Pass is in the Cascade Mountains, about 80 miles northeast of Seattle.
The avalanche occurred in an out-of-bounds area on the back side of the resort.
The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center on Sunday issued a warning for high avalanche danger for areas above 5,000 feet, saying warmer weather could loosen surface snow and trigger a slide on steeper slopes. The elevation of the avalanche wasn’t immediately clear.
At mid-afternoon, the temperate at the base of the ski resort was 24 degrees, with light winds and good visibility. The temperature at the top of the mountain was 22 degrees, according to the resort’s website.
John Gifford, the ski area’s general manager, said the resort has received 19 inches of snow in the past 24 hours. However, he said it wasn’t snowing there Sunday afternoon, and he had no details about the slide.
The sheriff’s office reported that the deaths occured in an out-of-bounds area at Steven’s Pass ski resort in the Cascade Mountains, near Seattle
Stevens Pass is one of the most popular outdoor recreation areas in the state, with visitors flocking there to go cross-country, back-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowshoeing and backpacking.
It’s been a deadly winter in Washington’s mountains. Four people disappeared in vicious storms while camping and climbing on Mount Rainier last month. The four remain missing, and authorities have said they’re hoping to find their bodies when the snow melts this summer.
Across the West, there had been 13 avalanche deaths this season as of Feb. 16, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks avalanche deaths in the U.S.
Experts have said the risk of additional slides could remain high all season. They attribute the dangers in part to a weak base layer of snow caused by a dry winter.
Avalanche deaths are more common in the backcountry than at ski resorts. Out of about 900 avalanche deaths nationwide since the winter of 1950-51, 32 were within terrain that was open for riding at ski resorts, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.
Also Sunday, West said a snowboarder was killed in a separate incident at the Alpental ski area east of Seattle. The snowboarder went over a cliff. No other details were available.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.