Turnagain Pass Avalanche Forecast RSS

ARCHIVED FORECAST - All forecasts expire after 24 hours from the posting date/time.
Thu, December 17th, 2020 - 7:00AM
Fri, December 18th, 2020 - 7:00AM
Aleph Johnston-Bloom
Avalanche risk The Bottom Line

The avalanche danger is MODERATE on slopes over 35 degrees above 2,500′. In steep rocky terrain, there is still a chance a person could hit a thin spot in the snowpack and trigger a large avalanche, 4-6′ deep or deeper, failing in weak snow at the ground.

The avalanche danger is LOW at elevations below 2500’.

PLACER VALLEY/SKOOKUM: With this zone opening to snowmachines today for the first time this season, be mindful that the snowpack is untested. Extra caution is advised. Ease into big terrain, look for signs of instability and have escape routes planned.

SUMMIT LAKE: The snowpack in the Summit Lake area is generally thinner and weaker above 2500′, potentially making it easier to trigger a slab avalanche failing near the ground. Avoid steep, rocky terrain where these avalanches will be most likely.

As always, be sure to carry your rescue gear and practice safe travel protocol!

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Thu, December 17th, 2020
Above 2,500'
Moderate (2)
Avalanche risk
Low (1)
Avalanche risk
Below Treeline
Below 1,000'
Low (1)
Avalanche risk
Above 2,500'
Avalanche risk
Moderate (2)
Avalanche risk
Low (1)
Below Treeline
Below 1,000'
Avalanche risk
Low (1)
Danger Scale:
No Rating (0)
Low (1)
Moderate (2)
Considerable (3)
High (4)
Extreme (5)
Avalanche Problem 1
  • Deep Persistent Slabs
    Deep Persistent Slabs
  • Almost Certain
    Very Likely
  • Historic
    Very Large
Deep Persistent Slabs
Deep Persistent Slab avalanches are the release of a thick cohesive layer of hard snow (a slab), when the bond breaks between the slab and an underlying persistent weak layer deep in the snowpack. The most common persistent weak layers involved in deep, persistent slabs are depth hoar or facets surrounding a deeply buried crust. Deep Persistent Slabs are typically hard to trigger, are very destructive and dangerous due to the large mass of snow involved, and can persist for months once developed. They are often triggered from areas where the snow is shallow and weak, and are particularly difficult to forecast for and manage.

Likelihood of Avalanches
Terms such as "unlikely", "likely", and "certain" are used to define the scale, with the chance of triggering or observing avalanches increasing as we move up the scale. For our purposes, "Unlikely" means that few avalanches could be triggered in avalanche terrain and natural avalanches are not expected. "Certain" means that humans will be able to trigger avalanches on many slopes, and natural avalanches are expected.

Size of Avalanches
Avalanche size is defined by the largest potential avalanche, or expected range of sizes related to the problem in question. Assigned size is a qualitative estimate based on the destructive classification system and requires specialists to estimate the harm avalanches may cause to hypothetical objects located in the avalanche track (AAA 2016, CAA 2014). Under this schema, "Small" avalanches are not large enough to bury humans and are relatively harmless unless they carry people over cliffs or through trees or rocks. Moving up the scale, avalanches become "Large" enough to bury, injure, or kill people. "Very Large" avalanches may bury or destroy vehicles or houses, and "Historic" avalanches are massive events capable of altering the landscape.

Signal Word Size (D scale) Simple Descriptor
Small 1 Unlikely to bury a person
Large 2 Can bury a person
Very Large 3 Can destroy a house
Historic 4 & 5 Can destroy part or all of a village
More info at Avalanche.org

With benign weather today, as we trend towards overall LOW danger in the Turnagain pass area, only very specific terrain still warrants extra caution at this point. Steep (above 35°), rocky, unsupported slopes with variable snowpack coverage remain suspect for triggering a deep persistent slab avalanche. If hitting a thin spot does initiate an avalanche it could be deep, running on weak faceted snow at the ground. We are in the phase where there is a low probability of this but due to the depth, the consequences remain high. There are many pieces of data that are in our favor. It has been two weeks since the last human triggered avalanche on this layer and neither the last storm snow load or the last wind loading event were known to have triggered avalanches to the ground. Many skiers and snowmachiners have tested steeper slopes over the past two weeks. This all points to the snowpack adjusting and stabilizing. However, we still do have the poor snowpack structure above 2500′. We know the weak snow is there under a very hard slab of snow and if this happens to fail it could be dangerous. It’s this remaining, ‘What if?’ that sucks. The most likely places to trigger a large avalanche failing near the ground, will be in the areas with the thinnest snowpack in steep and rocky terrain. The total snow depth gets thinner as you head south in Turnagain Pass and to the north around Crow Pass. In the upper elevation terrain in Placer Valley and Skookum we have no data on the snowpack and have to assume guilty until proven innocent. 

As Andrew said in the forecast yesterday, ‘At some point– hopefully sometime soon– we will be able to tuck this problem away as an additional concern. For now, we are still finding weak snow at the ground, and we are actually getting some stability tests to fail in this layer, making this our primary concern for today.’

Besides this lingering deep slab issue, normal caution is warranted in avalanche terrain today. Steer clear of cornices, watch for lingering wind slab pockets just off of ridgelines and for sluffing in steep terrain, and pay attention to changing conditions if winds ramp up more than forecasted today.

This is an avalanche that occurred two weeks ago in Gold Pan that was triggered by a cornice fall. It is this type of terrain that is still suspect. Steep, rocky, unsupported slopes in the Alpine. Photo: Billy Finley.

Snowpack structure in a snow pit at 3000′ on Cornbiscuit, 12.14.20. Note the hard slab over the soft weak layer.




Thu, December 17th, 2020

Yesterday: Skies were mostly cloudy, unless you happened to be above the low stratus layer. There were light snow showers near the end of Turnagain Arm in the morning. Winds were calm and temperatures were in the low 30°Fs at sea level and mid to high teens in the Alpine. Overnight skies were partly cloudy, winds were calm and temperatures were in the high teens to low 20°Fs.

Today: Skies are forecast to be mostly cloudy with a chance of snow showers. Easterly winds bumped up a bit early this morning at ridgetops, blowing 10-15 mph with gusts into the 20s. These should ease by mid afternoon. Temperatures will be in the 20°Fs. Overnight skies will be mostly cloudy with a continued chance of snow showers. Winds will be light and northeasterly and temperatures will be in the teens to mid 20°Fs.

Tomorrow: Cloudy skies and a chance of snow with light northerly winds and temperatures in the 20°Fs. Looking ahead there is some uncertainty about the next storm developing for the weekend and how it will impact this region. Stay tuned! Think cold thoughts.

PRECIPITATION 24-hour data (6am – 6am)

Temp Avg (F) Snow (in) Water (in) Snow Depth (in)
Center Ridge (1880′) 22 0 0 59
Summit Lake (1400′) 20 0 0 25
Alyeska Mid (1700′) 23 0 0 59

RIDGETOP 24-hour data (6am – 6am)

Temp Avg (F) Wind Dir Wind Avg (mph) Wind Gust (mph)
Sunburst (3812′) 14 E 3 27
Seattle Ridge (2400′) 18 E 2 12
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Riding Areas
Updated Tue, April 20th, 2021

Status of riding areas across the Chugach NF is managed by the Glacier and Seward Ranger Districts, not avalanche center staff. Riding area information is posted as a public service to our users and updated based on snow depth and snow density to prevent resource damage at trailhead locations. Riding area questions contact: mailroom_r10_chugach@fs.fed.us

Area Status Weather & Riding Conditions
Glacier District
Johnson Pass
No parking in turnaround at end of the road near the outhouse.
Placer River
Please do not ride along Railroad tracks. Cross tracks at 90 degree angle and clear the right of way.
Skookum Drainage
The Skookum Valley is closed to snowmachines. This closure occurs annually on April 1 as per the CNF Forest Plan.
Turnagain Pass
Seward District
Carter Lake
Lost Lake Trail
Primrose Trail
Resurrection Pass Trail
Closed for the 2020/21 winter season.
Snug Harbor
South Fork Snow River Corridor
Summit Lake

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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.