In 2017, one of Eric Peitzsch’s close friends died in an avalanche while skiing in Glacier National Park. His friend was 36 years old and an experienced backcountry skier.
It occurred to Peitzsch, a physical scientist for the USGS and an avalanche forecaster and educator, that he’d seen a rash of fatalities among skiers in their thirties and forties. That ran counter to conventional wisdom, that the typical victim was a twentysomething guy eager to ski untracked powder but uneducated in avalanche safety. Peitzsch and others used to teach that, in general, avalanche victims were similar to snakebite victims: young men, most of whom were holding the snake at the time they were bitten.
This month, Peitzsch and four others published a study in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism that proved his hunch to be correct. What they found, he says, is that “the age groups where fatalities are increasing are the ages of 30 to 39 and 40 to 49.”