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Before the tracks could be cleared, the trains were buried by what still stands as the nation’s deadliest avalanche. Bodies were extricated and wrapped in blankets from the Great Northern Railway, then hauled away on sleds.

Without it, the first breaths could create a suffocating ice mask. The mountain pass that it burrowed beneath was named for the project’s engineer, John Frank Stevens, who later helped build the Panama Canal.

The avalanche spread and stopped, locking everything it carried into an icy cocoon. Wreckage after the Wellington, Wash., avalanche in 1910, which buried two passenger trains marooned by snowstorms outside the Cascade Tunnel and killed 96 people.

Reaching Tunnel Creek from Stevens Pass ski area requires a ride of just more than five minutes up Sky Line Express, a high-speed four-person chairlift, followed by a shorter ride up Seventh Heaven, a steep two-person lift.

Slip through the open boundary gate, with its “continue at your own risk” warning signs, and hike 10 minutes to the top of Cowboy Mountain.

Steep gullies drain each spring’s runoff to the valley floor and into a small, short gorge called Tunnel Creek.

The area has all of the alluring qualities of the backcountry — fresh snow, expert terrain and relative solitude — but few of the customary inconveniences.

It was now a jagged, virtually impenetrable pile of ice, longer than a football field and nearly as wide. Rescue workers transported bodies from the scene on sleds.

As if newly plowed, it rose in rugged contrast to the surrounding fields of undisturbed snow, 20 feet tall in spots. In late February 1910, ceaseless snowstorms over several days marooned two passenger trains just outside the tunnel’s west portal.

And the worry among avalanche forecasters, snow-science experts and search-and-rescue leaders is that the number of fatalities — roughly 200 around the world each year — will keep rising as the rush to the backcountry continues among skiers, snowboarders, climbers and snowmobilers.

The backcountry represents the fastest-growing segment of the ski industry.

After about a minute, the creek bed vomited the debris into a gently sloped meadow. Her hands, too, stuck out of the snow, one still covered by a pink mitten. In winter, they are smothered in some of North America’s deepest snowpack.