A new effort to save skiers from avalanche deaths launches in Colorado

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Photo: Avalanche danger sign (AP Photo)
An avalanche danger sign closes off a specific area of the woods due to avalanche risk, on Corona Bowl, known for its extreme skiing, at Eldora Mountain Resort, near Nederland, Colo., Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014.

It's been more than a year since George Dirth died in an avalanche on Parkview Mountain north of Granby. But his mother, Lisa Dirth, struggles with his death every day. And she's not the only one.

"His dog is so needy now, because George didn’t come back," she says. "He doesn’t want to let people out of his sight."

The number of avalanche deaths in the U.S. has risen dramatically since the 1950s. Experts say that's due at least in part to increased interest in skiing in the backcountry, where there's more fresh snow and less crowds.

So far this year, six people have been killed by avalanches in the West.

In response, the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), based in Denver, is leading an unprecedented group of ski resorts, gear makers, and avalanche forecasters to try to reduce accidents and fatalities.

The effort is called Project Zero and it is targeting 18-26 year old advanced skiers. The campaign is meant to raise awareness of avalanche risks, provide training on the proper use of avalanche gear, and to increase understanding of when to walk away from a risky situation.