His Job Was Forecasting Avalanches. He Died in One

Nick Burks, 37, triggered snowslide on Oregon's Gunsight Mountain while skiing with a friend
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 12, 2024 11:22 AM CDT
Avalanche Claims Man Who Forecast Them
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Ridofranz)

An avalanche forecaster died in a snowslide he triggered while skiing in eastern Oregon last week, officials said. Nick Burks, 37, and a friend—both experienced and carrying avalanche airbags and beacons—were backcountry skiing the chute on Gunsight Mountain on Wednesday, near Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort. Burks' friend skied down first and watched as the avalanche was triggered and overtook Burks. The companion was able to locate Burks quickly by turning on his transceiver, the Baker County Sheriff's Office said, per the AP.

People at the ski lodge saw the avalanche happen and immediately notified first responders, the agency said in a statement on Facebook. Bystanders were performing CPR on Burks as deputies, firefighters, and search and rescue crews arrived, but the efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, the sheriff's office said. The other skier wasn't hurt. The Northwest Avalanche Center said via Facebook that Burks had been part of its professional avalanche community for years. He worked as an avalanche forecaster for the Wallowa Avalanche Center in northeastern Oregon, and before that as part of the snow safety team at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski and Summer Resort, southeast of Portland.

Avalanche forecasters evaluate mountain snow conditions and other weather factors to try to predict avalanche risks. Avalanche safety specialists say the job has become more difficult as climate change brings extreme weather, and as growing numbers of skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers have visited backcountry areas since the COVID-19 pandemic. "Our backcountry community is small, and we understand the tremendous grief many are experiencing," the Wallowa Avalanche Center said in a statement on its website, adding that a full investigation would be completed, with a report to follow. Eleven people have been killed in avalanches in the US this year, according to Avalanche.org.

(More avalanche stories.)

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