Avalanche deaths in the United States: a 45-year analysis

Wilderness Environ Med. 1999 Autumn;10(3):146-51. doi: 10.1580/1080-6032(1999)010[0146:aditus]2.3.co;2.


Objective: To describe the demographic characteristics and patterns of death of persons killed in snow avalanches over a 45-year study period.

Methods: The national avalanche database was the source of data in this retrospective, descriptive study.

Results: A total of 440 victims were killed in 324 fatal avalanches, of which 87.7% were fully buried, 4.7% were partially buried, and 7.6% were not buried. The average age was 27.6 +/- 10.6 years, and 87.3% were men. Victims who died included climbers (25.5%), backcountry skiers (22.7%), out-of-bounds skiers (10.0%), snowmobilers (6.8%), in-bounds skiers (5.2%), residents (4.5%), ski patrollers (3.6%), workers (3.6%), and motorists (3.0%). Over the 45-year study period there appear to be decreases in the deaths of in-bounds skiers, highway workers, and motorists. Increasing fatalities were observed among out-of-bounds skiers, snowmobilers, ski patrollers, and backcountry skiers. Most deaths occurred in Colorado (33.0%), Washington (13.2%), and Alaska (12.0%).

Conclusions: Avalanche fatalities have increased over the last 45 years. Climbers, backcountry skiers, out-of-bounds skiers, and more recently snowmobilers constitute the majority of the victims. The decrease in deaths among groups that benefit from avalanche control programs supports the benefit of avalanche prevention strategies. Further study is needed to assess the impact of avalanche safety education for individuals who travel in remote and uncontrolled terrain.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Demography
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sports
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology