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Colorado avalanche: 2 missing skiers found dead

Posted at 5:49 PM, Feb 16, 2014

(CNN) — Two skiers missing after a weekend avalanche in the Colorado mountains were found dead Sunday, authorities said.

A search and rescue team worked to remove the bodies from the steep terrain Sunday, said Betty Benson, a spokeswoman for the Lake County Office of Emergency Management. [RELATED: Click here to read more on this story from KDVR in Denver.]

Searchers braved “very, very steep” terrain and high risks of another snowslide while following signals from the emergency beacons the skiers wore, Susan Matthews, another emergency management spokeswoman said Sunday.

A record level of snow this winter and changing wind patterns have combined to create “very unstable conditions” on Colorado mountains, Matthews said. “For those people who are not prepared to be in those backcountry conditions, unfortunate incidents happen.”

The two skiers were part of a group of seven who were caught in the rugged backcountry east of Aspen on Saturday. Officials have not released the names of the skiers.

One of the three survivors was released from a hospital Sunday, while two others were transferred to other medical centers and two more were unharmed, Lake County authorities said. The reported injuries included a broken leg, a broken ankle, a possible broken rib and a collapsed lung, county authorities said.

Saturday’s avalanche follows a string of deadly snowslides that killed six people last week — two each in Colorado, Utah and Oregon. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued warnings that cover much of the state’s ski country throughout the weekend. The center warns of “unusual conditions” in the Rocky Mountains — weak layers beneath the surface of the snowpack, rapid warming and strong winds — that can lead to “unusual and surprising avalanches.”

“We are seeing very dangerous avalanche conditions developing from basically the New Mexico border north to Wyoming,” the center said in an advisory issued Saturday. “And the problem list is about as complicated as it can get. We are seeing very large avalanches taking out very old trees, mine buildings that have been around for many decades, and avalanches burying roadways with 20 feet of debris.

“People have been getting caught and killed in avalanches recently. These are glaring, flashing and obvious clues that things are not all good across our backcountry. We are seeing a snowpack that is teetering on the brink of critical mass.”