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Two skiers, three snowmobilers killed in avalanches

Snow slides in Montana and Wyoming claimed the lives of at least five people over the weekend.

An avalanche on the back side of Whitefish Mountain Resort killed two backcountry skiers Sunday and searchers combed the slide area for other possible victims, Flathead County Sheriff Mike Meehan said.

Meehan said the avalanche occurred on Fiberglass Hill in the Canyon Creek drainage.

Emergency responders were alerted to the avalanche around noon, and more than 100 search and rescue people were quickly called to the scene.

Meehan released a statement indicating the body of a victim was recovered at about 1:18 p.m. and a second body at 4:16 p.m. No names were released.

The number of people missing in the slide is unknown, Meehan said early Sunday evening.

“At this time, there are conflicting statements to responders about how many more victims might have been buried in the avalanche,” he said.

“If the scene of the avalanche is safe for rescue workers, rescue efforts will continue throughout the night.”

The sheriff described the avalanche as “massive,” and said the slide area began high on the mountain side, is several hundred feet wide and piled up between 25 and 35 feet of snow by the time it came to a stop.

In Wyoming the bodies of three men caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling in the Star Valley area south of Jackson were recovered Saturday. The three men, whose names were not released, were found in the Cottonwood Lake area by the Star Valley Search and Rescue team, the Lincoln County sheriff’s office said.

A dispatcher said Sunday she didn’t know when the avalanche occurred. No further details were given.

Avalanches have killed at least 17 people across the West since Nov. 12. The national annual average for avalanche deaths is about 25. Thirty-five people were killed nationwide in avalanches in the 2001-2002 season, the most on record, according to the U.S. Forest Service.