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Skiers taking avalanche safety course triggered deadly Colorado avalanche, officials say

Six backcountry skiers were taking an avalanche safety course Saturday in Colorado when they triggered an avalanche — burying and killing one skier in their party, state officials said.

Everyone in the six-person group in the state’s Upper Senator Beck Basin was caught in the afternoon avalanche, which “sympathetically” unleashed a second avalanche, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in a preliminary report. The group set off the slides as they went down the slope.

“The second avalanche ran over the debris pile of the first slide,” the report said. “One member of the group was buried in the debris of the two avalanches.”

The five other skiers found the buried skier and dug him out from more than eight feet of snow, the preliminary report said. But the skiers weren’t able to revive the buried skier.

State officials said rescuers helped the five surviving skiers get back to U.S. Route 550.

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“The red lines mark the crown face of the two avalanches,” state officials wrote in a preliminary report on the slides. The skiers “triggered the avalanche on the right and the avalanche on the left released sympathetically.” Colorado Avalanche Information Center

The Silverton Avalanche School said in a Facebook post on Monday that the group was completing a level II recreational training course. The three-day course is designed for people who have finished previous avalanche safety classes, the Denver Post reports.

The school is a nonprofit that said it has been giving avalanche safety training since 1962. The weekend death was the first in the school’s history, according to the Facebook post.

“This tragic accident impacts all of us and our deepest condolences go out to the family,” the school wrote. “Our number one priority at this time is ensuring the safety and well being of the family of the victim and the students and staff involved in the accident.”

The Durango Herald identified the skier who died as 40-year-old Peter Marshall, of Longmont, Colorado. It’s the first avalanche death this winter in the state, according to the Colorado Sun.

The Sun described the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado, where the avalanches occurred, as “one of the most avalanche-prone snowpacks in the continental United States.”

Ethan Greene, executive director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said it’s very uncommon for avalanches to happen during a training course, Denver7 reports.

Still, it’s happened before: A 32-year-old taking another avalanche safety course near Aspen Highlands died in 2005 after an avalanche carried him 3,000 feet down a mountain, according to the TV station.

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