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Deadly Snow Sports: Wash. Had Highest Incidence of Fatal Avalanches Last Season

Washington state has some of the most beautiful mountains in the world for winter sports – and also the most deadly.

Last year,more people died in avalanche accidents here than in any other state in the nation.

At the same time, more people are rescued or have learned how to avoid risky terrain, thanks to avalanche educators and forecasters. Dallas Glass fulfills both of those roles for the Northwest Avalanche Center in Seattle.  

Credit Susie Glass / Courtesy Dallas Glass, NWAC.
Courtesy Dallas Glass, NWAC.
NWAC avalanche educator/forecaster Dallas Glass, highlighting potential avalanche layers in new storm snow.

In an interview with KNKX, Glass said Washington is often among the states with the highest number of fatalities, typically ranking third or fourth the nation. But he also pointed out it appears that the avalanche center’s educational efforts are paying off because most of these accidents are not just caused by the weather or geology.

“Ninety percent of fatal avalanches are triggered by the victim or somebody in their party,” he says.  “If it was ninety percent of avalanches were random occurrences, I would not be in the mountains. What this statistic says to me is that my decisions have weight. What I do, where I go and maybe more importantly where I intentionally don’t go in the mountains can have really positive impacts on my safety.”

Glass says while more people are hitting the trails and back country in winter, the number of accidents appears to be holding steady. That means avalanche fatality rates are effectively going down.  

For example, last season, Washington had four fatalities, but five other accidents in which climbers and skiers were rescued by their friends. And of the four fatalities, three were solo travelers, with no one close by to help them, further illustrating the success of awareness and skills training for people exploring areas with avalanche risks.

The Northwest Avalanche Center issues new avalanche forecasts every evening at 6 or 7 p.m. in winter. Their training starts with 90-minute sessions that cover how to read the forecasts and identify risk scenarios in areas on their maps. More advanced training includes day-long sessions on how to use a beacon, probe and shovel in rescue situations.

For a list of current classes on offer, you can visit this link.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to