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Oregon avalanche forecaster dies in snowslide he triggered while skiing

NORTH POWDER, Ore. (AP) — 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 air bags and beacons — were backcountry skiing the chute on Gunsight Mountain on Wednesday, near Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort.

His 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.

People at the ski lodge saw the avalanche happen and immediately told 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 Nick had been part of their 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. The job, avalanche safety specialists say, has become more difficult in as climate change brings extreme weather, and growing numbers of skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers visit 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 their website, adding that a full investigation would be done with a report to follow.

Eleven people have been killed in avalanches in the U.S. this year, according to Avalanche.org.