How it Could Happen
Last season's slides at Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Squaw Valley, California; and Snowbird, Utah, were the result of freakish weather conditions: an unusually long dry spell followed by massive snow dumps. "You can’t pin it on climate change—it was weather," says Karl Birkeland, avalanche scientist for the U.S. Forest Service. Fatalities inside ski area boundaries are extremely rare, and avalanche control teams can reduce the public’s risk to almost zero by instigating controlled slides. But in the backcountry, the risks increase exponentially. During the 2007–08 winter season alone, 36 people were killed in the States—a record largely attributed to the growth in popularity of backcountry snow sports.