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Issued
Mon, April 29th, 2024 - 7:00AM
Expires
Tue, April 30th, 2024 - 7:00AM
Forecaster
CNFAIC Staff
Conditions Summary

CNFAC is no longer issuing avalanche advisories for Turnagain Pass and surrounding regions. Although the forecast season has finished, the avalanche season has not  – please see below for some tips on NAVIGATING THE BACKCOUNTRY IN SPRINGTIME. 

  • Current conditions? Keep tabs on our  Observation Page! We will be posting any observations/reports sent in to us.
  • “Like”  the Friends of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center on Facebook and follow us @chugachavy on Instagram.
  • Be sure to check the nearby weather stations before heading out. You can find these on our Weather Page.

We would like to extend a huge  THANK YOU  to all the backcountry users that have taken the time to send in observations. Your reports are invaluable in providing the highest quality information!

Additionally, THANK YOU to all of you who have supported the CNFAIC through donations, memberships and a variety of other means.  This is the foundation we continue to build upon – we would not be here without you!

We would also like to thank our non-profit arm, the  Friends of the Chugach Avalanche Center. Half of our operating budget comes directly from you, through the ‘Friends’ organization. This amazing and selfless group has a tireless passion for keeping us safe in the backcountry. Their fundraising efforts allow the Avalanche Center to be a reality – literally. This includes covering the salary of our new position providing avalanche information for Chugach State Park. And of course, we would not be here without the support of the Forest Service and the wonderful Glacier and Seward Ranger Districts.

Last but far from least, we would like to thank our professional partners for sharing their insights, information and wisdom, which greatly improve our forecasts.

  • Alaska DOT Avalanche Program
  • Alyeska Snow Safety
  • Chugach Powder Guides
  • Chugach Electric Avalanche Program
  • Alaska Railroad Avalanche Program
  • David Hamre & Associates
  • Alaska Guide Collective
  • Alaska Avalanche School
  • Alaska Pacific University’s Snow Science Program
Avalanche Problem 1
  • Spring Conditions
    Spring Conditions
Spring Conditions
Warmth has a tricky effect on snow. On the one hand it speeds up the stabilization of the snowpack (reduces the chance of slab avalanches). But a SUDDEN rise of temperature increases the chance of slab avalanches considerably. When this warm period is followed by cooling down, then the chance of slab avalanches reduces. Even more so: the more often the temperature changes, the more stable the snowpack becomes when looking at slab avalanches. Once the temperature becomes too warm we have to deal with wet snow avalanches.
More info at Avalanche.org

NAVIGATING THE BACKCOUNTRY IN SPRINGTIME

Whether you are planning to eek out the last of the corn skiing in Turnagain Pass, climb Denali, or extend your ski season in one of Alaska’s more remote mountain ranges there are some general considerations for spring skiing that can help you stay safe while enjoying the spring and summer in Alaska’s beautiful mountain ranges. The most important is to tune yourself into the daily cycle of wet snow avalanches. Managing springtime avalanche hazard is based largely on time of day and aspect, with conditions often changing from stable to dangerous within a matter of hours.

It is also important to remember that at higher elevations we can get significant snow storms any time of year in Alaska, so you can’t let your guard down for dry slab avalanche conditions entirely. As of late April 2024, the snowpack in the western Chugach and eastern Kenai mountains is still transitioning from dry to wet at upper elevations and as long as the temperatures stay cold enough to snow there could continue to be dry snow avalanche activity during and after storms or on buried weak layers at upper elevations, especially on shaded slopes.

Large glide avalanche that triggered a large wet slab avalanche on Repeat Offender above the Seattle Creek motorized uptrack in late April 2022 Photo courtesy of Rusty Allen 4.24.22

Wet snow avalanches

Wet snow avalanches are caused by melt water decreasing the strength of the snowpack which can lead to wet loose avalanches on the snow surface or larger wet slab avalanches that release either on weak layers within the snowpack or on the ground. These big ugly wet slab avalanches can be highly destructive and require careful evaluation of the snow surface conditions to minimize your exposure. The best indication of wet slab avalanches are to monitor how deep you are sinking into the snow surface and pay attention for any recent wet loose avalanches that are either human triggered or naturally triggered. The rule of thumb is that if the snow is melted enough to be above your ankle when stepping on the surface with a boot then it is time to move onto the next shadier aspect.

The diurnal cycle of wet snow refers to the pattern of melting and freezing that occurs on a daily basis during clear weather. Colder temperatures and lack of solar input at night allows the surface snow to freeze, forming a strong crust that stabilizes the snowpack and can make for very fast travel conditions. As the sun comes up in the morning it starts melting the surface snow, with east aspects melting first, then south, west, and north respectively. There is a delicate balance of the surface snow being melted enough for good corn skiing but not melted too much to where wet avalanches become a significant risk.

What if it is cloudy or not cold enough for the snow surface to freeze at night? Fun fact, the snow surface can form a crust with temperatures above freezing as long as there are clear skies. If it is both cloudy and above freezing then the snowpack will not have a chance to stabilize overnight and the potential for wet snow avalanches is especially high. A general rule of thumb is that three nights in a row of no refreeze is an omen for major wet slab avalanches. It is best to avoid avalanche terrain and runout zones during these periods of sustained melting because the ingredients for large and destructive wet slab avalanches are all in place.

Cornice FallAfter building up all season the huge cornices overhanging many ridgelines are ready to fall. Melting from the sun will eventually topple most of the cornices so it is best to avoid spending time underneath cornices that are receiving strong sun. Cornice crevasses are also common in late winter and early spring, which are horizontal cracks in the snow surface that run parallel to the cornice where the cornice is pulling away from the mountain side.

Glide avalanchesWhile glide releases can be totally random and happen under any conditions, they become more likely during periods of active melting of the snowpack. If you can see a glide crack it is best to avoid spending time underneath as it could release at any time and create a large and destructive avalanche.

Spring storms

It can snow anytime of year in the mountains of Alaska, especially in the higher elevation ranges. Keep in mind that new snow doesn’t really like to bond well with older layers of snow that have very different grain size or shape. If a spring storm brings new snow to the region the avalanche danger will be elevated during the storm and for a few days afterwards as the new snow either sheds off of the old melt freeze surface or becomes wet enough to bond with the old snow surface and continues with the melt/freeze cycle. As always look for red flags to indicate when conditions are dangerous and adjust your terrain selection based on the current snowpack conditions.

Red Flags for dangerous avalanche conditions: 

  • Recent Avalanches
  • Whumphing or shooting cracks
  • Heavy snowfall or rain
  • Recent wind loading
  • Rapid temperature changes*

* Rapid temperature changes are less of a concern when we already have a spring melt freeze snowpack. Over time the snowpack develops drainage channels and can efficiently transport rain or melt water through the snowpack without experiencing unstable avalanche conditions.

Very large avalanche after a big spring storm in Blackstone Bay. Photo 4.24.22

Bears

The bears are coming out of their dens and starting to look for their first meals in months. Bears sometimes den fairly high in the mountains on sloped hillsides, which means there is potential for interaction with backcountry skiers and riders. We have already heard reports of bear sightings within our forecast area this season. In recent years there have been several other examples of skiers having encounters with bears (articles here and here) emerging from their den in the spring. These are reminders to be on the lookout for recent tracks and possibly carry bear spray or an alternative form of bear deterrent.

Brown bears are a common sight in Chugach National Forest during the Spring through Fall months. Photo from BBC

Remote expeditions

Headed into the big mountains this spring? Many of the higher elevation mountain ranges in Alaska receive a lot of snowfall in the spring and summer months so paying attention to avalanche conditions is a critical component of risk assessment for remote mountain expeditions. If you are flying into a new area it is wise to use the flight as an opportunity to look for recent avalanches, wind loading patterns, signs of where the snowpack still looks dry versus in a melt freeze cycle, see whether crevasse bridges are sagging on glaciers, and generally get a big picture sense of the snow conditions in the region you are travelling. You can also glean a lot of information from your pilot if they have been flying in the area recently. Once you land it will take a lot more time and energy to collect that information travelling on foot.

It is tempting to try and take advantage of a good weather window and immediately start climbing or skiing your main objectives once you arrive in a new area. However, you probably have very little information about the snowpack structure and avalanche conditions in the area. One technique to avoid jumping into consequential terrain with limited information is to use terrain progression to ease your way into more committing objectives. Start with low angle slopes with minimal objective hazards and gradually build up to your bigger objectives. This will give you some time to observe the mountains and the opportunity to evaluate the snowpack stability on a variety of aspects and elevations before upping the ante. Finally, it can be tempting to go ‘ultralight’ and consider leaving your avalanche rescue gear (avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel) at home. You should make this decision thoughtfully and remember that avalanche rescue is our final layer of defense in case we make a mistake evaluating the conditions.

Checking out snow conditions near Mt Redoubt en route to Mt Illiamna in April 2014. 

Additional Concern
Spring Conditions
Warmth has a tricky effect on snow. On the one hand it speeds up the stabilization of the snowpack (reduces the chance of slab avalanches). But a SUDDEN rise of temperature increases the chance of slab avalanches considerably. When this warm period is followed by cooling down, then the chance of slab avalanches reduces. Even more so: the more often the temperature changes, the more stable the snowpack becomes when looking at slab avalanches. Once the temperature becomes too warm we have to deal with wet snow avalanches.
More info at Avalanche.org

When you are finished recreating for the winter season remember to take care of your avalanche gear!

  • Take the batteries out of your beacon and store it in a dry place.
  • Make sure your shovel and probe are dry when you put them away.
  • Put your airbag pack into storage mode per the manufacturers recommendations.
Observations
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This is a general backcountry avalanche advisory issued for Turnagain Arm with Turnagain Pass as the core advisory area. This advisory does not apply to highways, railroads or operating ski areas.