After little snow, Southcentral Alaska finally saw accumulation with the Christmas Eve storm. But with the new snowfall comes avalanche danger.
The Avalanche Advisory for the Turnagain area is a 4 out of 5, or high. Kevin Wright is the Director of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center. He says we have an exceptionally bad setup right now.
“All the early snow, the small amounts that we got in early winter, in October and November – they basically transformed into this very loose sort of sugar snow that just falls apart. And then just over the last few days we got about three feet of new storm snow on top of that. And we just built a very large heavy structure on top of a weak foundation so it just creates a fundamentally unstable snow pack,” Wright said.
Wright says his office has documented a number of natural avalanches since the storm. Department of Transportation highway crews have been doing explosive mitigation work to prevent avalanches along the Seward Highway but human triggered avalanches are very likely both above and below the tree line, Wright says. And, although it might be tempting to take new skis or snow machines to the mountains, he recommends staying out of the back country.
“If you’re in steep mountainous terrain, there aren’t too many ways to do it safely. So the safest bet is to go places like Alyeska or just flatter terrain where you’re not gonna find avalanches,” Wright said.
He says some of the worst areas are along the Seward Highway and above Turnagain Pass. And if the next storm system brings in more precipitation, as forecasters predict, we can expect more of the same.