Snowfall increases avalanche danger in Turnagain Pass

Avalanche experts are warning people to stay away from high elevations for the next few days in the Turnagain Pass area.

Heavy winds and curtains of precipitation — snow at high elevations, rain at lower — battered the eastern Kenai Peninsula on Saturday, continuing into Sunday. On slopes higher than 1,000 feet, the avalanche danger was considerable Sunday, according to an avalanche advisory from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

Triggering a large slab avalanche of two of three feet or more was likely on slopes higher than 1,500 feet. Large and dangerous, these types of avalanches are unmanageable and can be triggered from below or near a slope, according to the advisory.

“Today is a day to let the mountains adjust to the several feet of recent new snow,” the advisory states. “Cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making will be essential.”

Turnagain Pass got 20–30 inches of snow near 2,000 feet, while the Summit Lake area got 10–15 inches. The advisory recommends giving the snowpack time to bond from the recent storms and sticking to low-angle terrain with nothing steeper above.

“Remember, it’s the first 2 days after a storm where most avalanche fatalities occur,” the advisory states. “Although there is nice powder at the upper elevations that can lure us, now is not the time to be sampling it.”

Due to warmer temperatures, rain fell on snow up to 1,500 feet, with more rain expected Sunday on snow up to 2,200 feet. With the warmer temperatures, wet loose avalanches are possible as well, according to the advisory.

Turnagain Pass opened to snowmachine use on Jan. 5 and is the only area currently open to snowmachine recreation on the Chugach National Forest in the Anchorage-Kenai Peninsula area. The Resurrection Pass Trail may open this season for snowmachining when there is enough snow.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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