The fatalities have followed heavy snowfall, first in the Alps but now matched by the Rockies. In most cases it is the familiar sad scenario of skiers and boarders ignoring advice and skiing off piste, often alone and being caught out. However there have been several cases of avalanche deaths on the piste in several North American resorts in recent weeks.
Whistler is believed to have seen the most deaths with four separate incidents in December. In three cases deaths occurred when skiers and boarders went outside the ski area boundaries or in to closed areas .
On New Year’s Day The Canadian Avalanche Centre warned that an exceptionally weak snowpack is causing "widespread avalanche danger."
"The snowpack across much of BC and Alberta is unusually weak and the CAC has received many reports of avalanches triggered by recreational activity over the past 24 hours," reads the warning. "As new snow accumulates on top of this fragile base, more avalanches are certain."
A further explanation was that recent exceptionally heavy snowfalls has led to big accumulations of fresh snow on top of the thin layer that was deposited during a dry November and early December. One commentator described the result as being like “a house brick sat on potato chips.”
South of the border the number of avalanche death has already reached double figures, with fatalities reported at or near Squaw Valley, California; Snowbird, Utah and both Aspen and Crested Butte, Colorado. Jackson Hole, Wyoming decided to close its slopes completely for a period following the death near its Paintbrush trail of a local man, and damage to a restaurant from an avalanche.
Avalanche deaths have also been reported across the Alps throughout December, as well as in Japan. In Austria a member of a guided off-piste group was killed near Zurs in the Arlberg region whilst at Isola 2000 in southern France a young man was buried in an avalanche when skiing down a closed black run.
Further non-avalanche deaths have been reported at other ski areas. At Santa Fe ski area in New Mexico a 10 year old girl who was not wearing a helmet died from head trauma when she collided with a tree.
The resort of Eldora in Colorado is in shock after one of the lift operators shot and killed the resort’s general manager, 49 year-old Brian Mahon, whilst at Obereggen in Italy a 50 year old British man who was teaching his young daughter to ski died after being struck by a high speed snowboarder who did not stop. A 16 year old Italian later turned himself in after the incident was reported on Italian television news.