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Fatal avalanche near Vallecito Reservoir
Two backcountry tourers died in an avalanche Saturday in a burn area near Vallecito Reservoir, which is in southwestern Colorado. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said just before midnight Saturday, a Flight For Life helicopter crew saw an avalanche southeast of the reservoir with tracks entering the avalanche and none exiting. (Colorado Avalanche Information Center photo)

Two backcountry skiers died Saturday morning in an avalanche southeast of Vallecito Reservoir, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported.

CAIC Director Ethan Greene said the skiers were in trees in a burn zone when the snow gave way. Their deaths bring the total number of people killed in avalanches in Colorado this season to six, compared with seven in all of the 2021-22 season.

Greene described the skiers as experienced and well-known in the backcountry community. When they were reported overdue on Saturday, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office began a search. Just before midnight, a Flight for Life helicopter identified an avalanche that had ski tracks entering the path, but none coming out, a preliminary report of the slide says. La Plata County Search and Rescue found the skiers buried under about 4 feet of debris.

CAIC said Sunday evening a snowmobiler remained missing after being caught and buried in an avalanche Saturday close to Red Lakes trailhead near La Manga Pass. That pass is in Conejos County in southern Colorado.

Search teams were on scene Saturday and again Sunday, including officials from the Conejos County Sheriff’s Office, Conejos County Search and Rescue, and U.S. Forest Service, according to the CAIC preliminary report. On Sunday, avalanche dog teams from the Wolf Creek Ski Area joined the search as well as CAIC forecasters and members of the local community. The search for the missing rider is ongoing, according to the CAIC Instagram post.

Heavy snowfall last week spiked high avalanche danger across Colorado’s high country. But after the weather briefly eased this weekend, avalanche danger is slowly decreasing.

“The key word is slowly,” the center wrote in an Instagram post.

Deadly avalanche near Vallecito Reservoir
This photo shows the crown face and the bed surface of an avalanche that killed two backcountry skiers on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, near Vallecito Reservoir, which is in southwestern Colorado. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said two skiers were killed in a burn area southeast of the reservoir. (Colorado Avalanche Information Center photo)

The avalanche center reports the risk of a slide in the area near Vallecito Reservoir is moderate, conditions in which natural avalanches are unlikely but human-triggered slides are possible.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for the area with as much as 4 inches of snow expected to fall.

This weekend, a snowmobiler was also caught and injured in an avalanche in the Hourglass Pass near Wolf Creek Pass.

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer based in Colorado Springs for The Colorado Sun, covering breaking news, wildfires and all things interesting impacting Coloradans. Before joining The Sun, Olivia covered criminal justice for The Colorado Springs Gazette. She’s also worked at newspapers in New Orleans and New Jersey, where she grew up. After graduating college, she lived in a tiny, rural town in southern Madagascar for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. When not writing, Olivia enjoys backpacking and climbing Colorado’s tallest peaks.