February 20th, 2012
04:15 PM ET

Avalanche deaths: 'victims...rarely have a chance to escape'

The avalanche that killed three skiers in Washington state Sunday moved so fast–and with so much power–there was no time for the skiers to react. The three, ski tour judge Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph and John Brennan, were part of a group of highly experienced backcountry skiers who were on an ungroomed slope near the Stevens Pass ski area in the Cascade Mountains, according to a CNN report.

One of the skiers is believed to have triggered the avalanche, called a "dry slab avalanche," which the U.S. Forest Service describes as a huge plate of snow and ice that can move 50 to 200 miles an hour, meaning "victims...rarely have a chance to escape."

Throughout the Mountain West, avalanches–and deaths–are rising. And experts say in many cases, the victims are the most experienced–and thrill-seeking–skiers. “It’s mostly the hardcore riders, people who know better,” Bruce Tremper, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, told The New York Times.

Being more careful on the slopes is part of the answer, experts say, as is using the best safety equipment. On Sunday, professional skier Elyse Saugstad was saved in the avalanche by a portable air bag–believed to be the second time in recent weeks the inflatable devices saved a life. “It’s kind of like a flotation device,” John Snook of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in an interview Monday with The Los Angeles Times. “The idea is to keep you near the top of the avalanche so there is a greater possibility of being found.”

You'll see the backback device in action–and learn more about surviving an avalanche–on Erin Burnett OutFront, tonight at 7 p.m. ET on CNN.

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