By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Two skiers missing after an avalanche swept them and five others away in a slide-prone area of Colorado were confirmed dead on Sunday, authorities said.
The Sheriff's Office in Lake County, Colorado confirmed the two fatalities in the avalanche that occurred late Saturday afternoon near Twin Lakes, the Lake County Office of Emergency Management said on Twitter.
The avalanche occurred at an elevation of about 11,000 feet near Independence Pass, roughly 120 miles southwest of Denver.
Crews had been searching for the pair since the slide occurred, Susan Matthews, spokeswoman for the Lake County Office of Emergency Management, said earlier on Sunday.
Matthews said authorities believe the seven skiers triggered the slide.
Two of the skiers were buried but were uninjured and able to get out, while three others were hospitalized, she said.
One of the injured skiers suffered broken ribs and a lacerated kidney, another had a broken ankle and the third was treated and released, Matthews said.
The avalanche occurred in an area with treacherous and steep conditions, Matthews said.
Heavy snowfall combined with strong winds have created "an historic avalanche cycle" in the Colorado high country, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in an advisory.
Six people have died in avalanches in the western United States this month, according to the avalanche center. Two people were killed in two slides in Utah; a snowmobiler and a skier were killed in slides in Colorado last week; and two cross-country skiers died in an avalanche in eastern Oregon.
In all, 12 people were killed by avalanches in the United States this winter.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Amanda Kwan and Nick Zieminski)