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A Washington state trooper was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling, officials say

A Washington state trooper was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling Monday in Kittitas County, Washington, the county sheriff’s office said in a press release.

Search-and-rescue crews recovered trooper Steve Houle, 51, of Cle Elum from the avalanche. He was a 28-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol, the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office said in the release.

He is at least the 15th person to die in an avalanche in little more than a week. The first seven days of the month marked a record for the deadliest week of US avalanches.

The avalanche struck in the French Cabin Creek area of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, north of Cle Elum, in Kittitas County, nearly 100 miles southeast of Seattle.

“On behalf of the Sheriff’s Office, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Trooper Houle’s family, friends and the Washington State Patrol,” Sheriff Clay Myers said. “This is a tragic accident and will be felt hard in our close-knit law enforcement community.”

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said the Houle was a “fixture” in the county and will be greatly missed.

“A lot of troopers have come and gone through Kittitas County and he’s been one of those stabilizing troopers that everyone know,” Batiste said during a press briefing Monday night.

“He was great at what he did not just as a trooper but an expert at commercial vehicle enforcement,” the chief said. “He’s someone you could always depend on.”

Authorities had received a report that at least two people were overcome by an avalanche — one man was able to dig himself out, but was unsuccessful in locating his partner, the KCSO said in the release.

Deadliest week for avalanches on US record

This isn’t the first snowmobiling related-avalanche fatality — one person died after five snowmobilers were caught in an avalanche on Montana’s Swan Range on Saturday, according the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Saturday also saw an avalanche in Utah’s backcountry near Salt Lake City that claimed the lives of four people. Just a week earlier, another man died in an avalanche near Park City Mountains Canyons Village resort a week ago, just a few miles from the site of Saturday’s avalanche.

Three skiers, all local government officials, were killed in a Colorado avalanche last Monday with their bodies recovered Wednesday.

A backcountry skier and snowboarder were caught in an avalanche near Etna Summit in California on February 3. The snowboarder survived but the skier was buried by snow and despite an hour of CPR by his partner, he was unable to be revived and died.

In Alaska, three climbers were reported missing on February 2 after they had not returned from a hike on Bear Mountain in Chugach State Park. During the search, Alaska State Troopers discovered what appeared to be a recent avalanche. In the avalanche slide area, troopers found the bodies of the three missing climbers buried in the snow.

The deadly avalanche season could be the result of two probable reasons, Nikki Champion, a forecaster at the Utah Avalanche Center told CNN.

It could be that more people are enjoying the outdoors in the wilder parts of the West or could be the result of a “really dangerous snow pack,” Champion explained.

This year’s avalanche season has likely been more active because of a “persistent weak layer” of snow, she said.

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