Weekend snowstorm ups avalanche danger in Kenai Mountains

While the central Kenai Peninsula didn’t end up with much snow to show for heavy precipitation Sunday, the Kenai Mountains were loaded with as much as 4 feet, which poses significant avalanche danger.

In Turnagain Pass, the Summit Lake area and surrounding mountains, avalanche danger is high from the weekend storm.

Wendy Wagner, a forecaster for the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, said on Monday that it’s a good day for skiers, snowboarders and snowmachiners to stay off the mountains.

“It was quite a day in the mountains yesterday as a fast-moving storm rolled through,” she said. “A mini-snowpocalypse rolled through with 3 to 4 feet of snow in about 30 hours. Today, the storm has abated but dangerous avalanche conditions still exist.”

The storm is termed a rapid loading event, with heavy snow dumping on top of already weak surfaces.

Cornices are particularly liable to fail, especially with continued easterly winds of 20-30 mph further building cornices and loading slopes.

“After a storm like we just had, cornices should have grown, be on the verge of falling and could trigger very large avalanches below that could run to valley bottoms,” she said.

Wagner said it could take a while for the snowpack to stabilize.

“How long it will take the new and old snow interface to bond is a big uncertainty at this point and very conservative terrain choices will be necessary as we move into the week,” she said. “In the event there is a true break in weather and the sun comes out, the sun will act to destabilize the pack, as well.”

The avalanche advisory is updated daily by 7 a.m. at the avalanche information center’s website. Updates on highway road conditions and advisories can be found at 511.alaska.gov.