Two skiers lost in Colorado avalanche are confirmed dead

Keith Coffman

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Two skiers missing after an avalanche swept them and five others away in a slide-prone area of Colorado were confirmed dead on Sunday, authorities said.

The Sheriff's Office in Lake County, Colorado confirmed the two fatalities in the avalanche that occurred late Saturday afternoon near Twin Lakes, the Lake County Office of Emergency Management said on Twitter.

The avalanche occurred at an elevation of about 11,000 feet near Independence Pass, roughly 120 miles southwest of Denver.

The two skiers were found at the top of the avalanche, said Susan Matthews, spokeswoman for the Lake County Office of Emergency Management.

"The skiers were equipped with avalanche beacons which assisted search and rescue crews in locating them," she said.

She said authorities believe the seven skiers triggered the slide.

Two members of the group were buried but were uninjured and able to get out, while three others were injured, she said earlier on Sunday.

One of the injured skiers suffered broken ribs and a lacerated kidney, another had a broken ankle and the third was treated and released, she said.

The avalanche occurred in an area with treacherous and steep conditions, Matthews said.

Heavy snowfall combined with strong winds have created a historic avalanche cycle in the Colorado high country, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in an advisory.

Six people died in avalanches in the western United States earlier this month, according to the avalanche center. Two people were killed in two slides in Utah; a snowmobiler and a skier were killed in slides in Colorado last week; and two cross-country skiers died in an avalanche in eastern Oregon.

Including the skiers killed on Saturday, 14 people have been killed by avalanches in the United States this winter.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Amanda Kwan, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)