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(MOOSE, Wyo.) — The desperate search for two experienced backcountry skiers lost in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park has come to a horrible end.

On Thursday, friends Steve Romeo and Chris Onufer were found dead after being swept thousands of feet downhill in an avalanche that started near the 11,355-foot summit of Ranger Peak.  The pair had been missing since Wednesday.

Onufer’s friend Michelle Smith told ABC News skiing was a huge part of his life.

“He’d want to go out there every day rain or shine.  He was super inspirational.  He had so much energy for the mountain and he fed that energy to everyone around him,” she said.

Romeo and Onufer are now the 26th and 27th victims to be killed by avalanches so far this season.  For perspective, on average 25 people are killed in U.S. avalanches every year, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

John Snook, an avalanche forecaster at the center, explains why this year has been especially dangerous for backcountry skiers.

“We had a very dry start to the season, so the early season snow — which was very shallow — turned into a very weak foundation.  Now, we’re putting new snow on top of that.  We’re putting a very heavy load on top of a very weak foundation which is creating very unstable conditions,” Snook said.  “So this year we are seeing more fatalities as a result.”

And it’s not just novice skiers that are dying.  A few weeks ago, five expert level skiers were caught in an avalanche near Stevens Pass, Wash.  Three were buried and killed.

“Even experienced skiers, if they don’t pay attention to what’s going on and stay focused to the unstable conditions, they can get themselves in trouble as well,” Snook says.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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