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Two die in avalanches, roads and passes shut down in Colorado high country

By: The Denver Post
February 12, 2014 Updated: February 12, 2014 at 5:45 am
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DENVER - Two people have died, roads and passes have closed and access to a ski area was briefly cut off Tuesday as a result of the deep snow and resulting avalanches in Colorado's high country.

Kevin Kuybus, 46, of Highlands Ranch died in an avalanche Monday while backcountry skiing near Keystone Ski Resort, and a snowmobiler died Monday in a separate avalanche near Crested Butte.

A Colorado Springs woman died over the weekend in an avalanche in Utah, which along with Colorado has issued recent warnings about avalanche danger.

Ten people have died in avalanches nationally this season - and four since Sunday.

"We're seeing avalanche runs larger than we've seen in the last 20 years," said Spencer Logan, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The danger of more slides remained high following prolonged snowfall measured in feet that has lured skiers and snowboarders.

Other Western states generally have less severe conditions than Colorado, according to avalanche.org.

In Colorado, avalanche mitigation work along U.S. 6, a mile west of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, shut down the highway, sealing off the ski area for a brief time. The avalanche path that was mitigated is known as the Widow Maker.

Before Tuesday, that chute had not touched the highway since 1995, Logan said.

The slide mitigated Tuesday was 100 feet wide and 20 feet deep, said Amy Ford, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

The slide was deliberately set by explosives dropped from a helicopter.

Loveland Pass, which had been closed since Friday by adverse conditions, reopened early Tuesday afternoon after the mitigation work.

A body was found near Keystone on Tuesday, recovered from an avalanche triggered on Monday afternoon. The victim's name has not been released. Another skier survived the slide, Logan said.

The fatal avalanche was categorized as large, measuring up to 200 feet wide and 4 feet deep. It ran about 2,000 vertical feet into a gully.

The Summit County Sheriff's Office confirmed the death Tuesday afternoon.

Two people were caught in an avalanche Monday near Kebler Pass in Gunnison County. One of the victims died. That person has not been identified.

The avalanche information center has issued a special advisory for widespread areas of the Colorado mountains including: Steamboat; Flat Tops; Front Range; Vail and Summit counties; Aspen; Gunnison; North and South San Juan mountains; and Sawatch zones.

"Avalanche conditions in the backcountry are dangerous," the center warns. "Travel in or below avalanche terrain is not recommended."

A prolonged period of heavy snow is causing the problems in the high country.

"From the end of January until Monday, we've had record or near record snowfall in some areas," Logan said. "It's a really big amount of snow, on top of snow already riddled with weak layers. It's overwhelmed a fragile snowpack."

Ski patrol staff have reported avalanches in "well documented avalanche paths that are breaking mature timber and behaving in surprising ways," the center reports.

More snow is forecast for the mountains this week, Logan said.

"We are looking at continuing serious problems - avoid traveling in or below steep slopes," Logan said. "Conditions are very dangerous; you are going to want to be very careful about where you're going in the backcountry."

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