Avalanche danger considerable in Turnagain Pass as motorized use begins

Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center staff dug a test pit on Seattle Ridge on...
Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center staff dug a test pit on Seattle Ridge on Nov. 23.(Photo courtesy Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center)
Published: Nov. 27, 2021 at 12:03 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Avalanche danger has been upgraded in Turnagain Pass to considerable at elevations above 2,500 feet as the west side of the Seward Highway in Turnagain Pass opened to snowmachines for motorized use on Saturday.

Avalanche danger in Turnagain Pass was upgraded to considerable at elevations above the tree line on Nov. 23, and has remained considerable for the last four days. Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center Forecaster John Sykes wrote in his Saturday forecast that the main avalanche concern was persistent slabs with an additional concern of glide avalanches. A report was posted of one person who was caught and carried approximately 400 feet in an avalanche near Hope.

“Human triggered slab avalanches 2-3″ thick are likely on slope angles above 35 degrees. Multiple layers of weak snow exist throughout the advisory area and have been buried by 20-34″ of new snow this week,” Sykes wrote.

Observations posted to the information Center website include numerous avalanches reported over the last several days. Avalanche Information Center Director Wendy Wagner said that as the motorized season begins, more people are in the mountains which creates a higher chance of avalanches occurring.

“Now that the motorized area is open, there could be a lot more people getting on a lot more slopes and so we essentially have more triggers,” Wagner said. “There are some unknowns and uncertainty with the snowpack there but we do know the snowpack has a poor structure—how many riders or how touchy it is for them to be able to trigger an avalanche is an unknown—but the signs are there that it could be quite dangerous.”

Avalanche danger at elevations under 2,500 feet below the tree line remains moderate. The website for the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center is updated every day with professional forecasts on avalanche danger.

Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center Director and Avalanche Specialist Jed Workman posted his forecast for the Talkeetna Mountains in the Hatcher Pass, where avalanche danger at mid to upper elevations from 2,500 feet of elevation above 3,500 feet was reported as moderate.

“Cold weather has preserved loose snow near the surface which will be possible to human trigger at mid and upper elevations in specific terrain, 40º and steeper. While these avalanches will be small in size, they will move quickly and be capable of sweeping you off your feet into other hazards, such as shallowly buried rocks and cliffs,” Workman wrote. “Natural avalanches are unlikely.”

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