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Two killed, two missing in Colorado avalanches

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Two skiers were killed in avalanches at separate Colorado ski resorts over the weekend and a search was underway for two snowmobilers feared caught in another snowslide in northwestern Colorado, authorities said on Monday.

"Widespread dangerous avalanche conditions exist today," said Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Center. "Today the snowpack is overloaded."

Three juveniles on Vail Mountain were skiing in an area closed off due to the avalanche danger when the trio triggered an avalanche on Sunday, said Jesse Mosher, spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff's Office.

A 13-year-old boy, whose name was not released, was buried and killed in the slide, she said. The other two juveniles were not seriously injured.

At the Winter Park ski resort northwest of Denver, a 28-year-old man was reported missing by his skiing partners late Sunday afternoon, said resort spokeswoman Mistalynn Lee.

The ski patrol located the man, who was "unresponsive," on an expert ski trail. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, Lee said.

Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock identified the dead man as Christopher Norris of Evergreen, Colorado. Bock said an autopsy concluded that he died of asphyxiation.

In northwestern Colorado, an active search is underway for two snowmobilers believed caught in an avalanche at 10,180-foot Buffalo Pass, said Missi White, spokeswoman for Jackson County Search and Rescue.

Lazar said a slim early winter snowpack, combined with recent heavy snowfalls and high winds on Colorado slopes have created the avalanche alert.

The risk of a natural avalanche lessened on Monday, he said, but human-triggered slides are likely.

Any snow-covered slope of 30 degrees or steeper is prone to avalanches, Lazar said, adding, "If you are venturing into the backcountry, choose your route carefully."

A Pacific storm moving into the Rockies on Monday will bring more snow, but forecasts are for light accumulations which shouldn't elevate the avalanche risk, Lazar said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)

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