While the lack of snowfall during the 2011-2012 winter will soon fade from skiers’ memories, the fatal consequences of the unstable conditions will leave a more permanent mark. According to the authorities on avalanche information– the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) and Avalanche.org– 15 skiers have died in 11 avalanches in the United States, making this the most fatal skiing season on record.
Over the course of the winter, a few of skiing’s elite were claimed in the accidents. Jim Jack, the head judge of the Freeskiing World Tour, and two more skiers were buried in an avalanche at Stevens Pass resort in Washington this February. Then, in March, expert backcountry skiers Chris Onufer and Steve Romeo died in an avalanche at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
The uncharacteristically high number of skiers who died this winter account for half of the total avalanche-related deaths in the US during 2011-2012. Some speculate that the outlying factor was the warm weather on days when these fatal avalanches occurred, causing unstable snow and especially life-threatening conditions.
The tragic losses may be assuaged slightly by the knowledge that some of the skiers died enjoying the sport that they loved most. One of the most recent accidents in Haines, Alaska claimed the lives of Nick Dodov, 26, and his backcountry guide Rob Liberman, 35, on March 13.
The clip below shows footage of the two skiers in the pristine Alaskan backcountry one day before the fatal avalanche. When reflecting on the privilege of working in the backcountry and skiing everyday Liberman stated, “It is awesome watching people’s dreams come true. I can’t tell you how many times I hear, ‘Best run of my life. Best day of my life.’ That’s very rewarding.”
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