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Fri, December 15th, 2017 - 7:00AM
Sat, December 16th, 2017 - 7:00AM
Aleph Johnston-Bloom
Avalanche risk The Bottom Line

The avalanche danger is  CONSIDERABLE  on all aspects in the Alpine, 2500′ and above. Triggering deep slab, 4-8+’ deep, and/or  a fresh wind slab 1-2′ is likely  on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. Cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential.  

2500′ and below the avalanche danger is  MODERATE  where  rain has fallen  and  a melt-freeze crust has developed. Triggering a slab avalanche is still possible.  

Below 1000′, where little snow exists, there is no danger rating.  

Special Announcements

The final accident report from the November 22nd avalanche fatality at Hatcher Pass is available HERE.  Our thoughts continue to go out to Randy Bergt’s family, friends and ski partners.

Save the dates for two upcoming CNFAIC Fireside chats,  December 19th at Blue & Gold Boardshop  in Anchorage and December 21st at Powder Hound Ski Shop  in Girdwood. Both will discuss lessons learned from past avalanche incidents.

Scholarship  Applications are due TODAY!  The Friends of the CNFAIC have two scholarships dedicated to avalanche education for skiers, snowmachiners and all user groups. The funds generated to make these possible are in celebration of Rob Hammel and Amy Downing, their love and passion for the mountains, and to help others stay safe.  

Fri, December 15th, 2017
Above 2,500'
3 - Considerable
Avalanche risk
2 - Moderate
Avalanche risk
Below Treeline
Below 1,000'
0 - No Rating
Avalanche risk
0 - No Rating
1 - Low
2 - Moderate
3 - Considerable
4 - High
5 - Extreme
Avalanche risk Avalanche risk Avalanche risk Avalanche risk Avalanche risk
Travel Advice Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features. Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern. Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision-making essential. Very dangerous avalanche conditions. Travel in avalanche terrain not recommended. Extraordinarily dangerous avalanche conditions. Avoid all avalanche terrain.
Likelihood of Avalanches Natural and human-triggered avalanches unlikely. Natural avalanches unlikely; human-triggered avalanches possible. Natural avalanches possible; human-triggered avalanches likely. Natural avalanches likely; human-triggered avalanches very likely. Natural and human-triggered avalanches certain.
Avalanche Size and Distribution Small avalanches in isolated areas or extreme terrain. Small avalanches in specific areas; or large avalanches in isolated areas. Small avalanches in many areas; or large avalanches in specific areas; or very large avalanches in isolated areas. Large avalanches in many areas; or very large avalanches in specific areas. Very large avalanches in many areas.
Avalanche Problem 1
  • Deep Persistent Slabs
    Deep Persistent Slabs
  • Certain
    Very Likely
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.
More info at Avalanche.org

Above 2,500′ moist to dry snow has fallen for two weeks now. We have little information for these upper elevations at this time, but we do know prior to the storm cycle weak faceted snow with crust(s) sat near the ground. Prior to this last warm, wet storm this set-up was very reactive and there were multiple remote triggered avalanches. The slab on top of this weak foundation has now grown to several feet. This presents a deep persistent slab problem and will be guilty until proven innocent.  The 1st person on the slope or the 10th might trigger this type of avalanche. It is a total roll of the dice or Russian roulette set-up. Finding the shallow spot could have devastating results. This type of avalanche would be unsurvivable. There may be no obvious clues to indicate instability and digging to find the weak layer could be challenging. We need more time and information to determine the sensitivity and distribution of the deep persistent slab problemConservative route-finding will be essential due to the potential for large avalanches. 

Below 2500′ where rain fell the snowpack is a mixture of crusts and wet snow. Runnels are present and the facets near the ground are moist to wet and rounding. The cooling trend is locking up the snowpack. Triggering an avalanche is still possible but does not have the same potential for the large destructive deep slabs. Pay attention to your elevation bands today and as always look for signs of instability. 

Deep slab avalanches are like messing with a sleeping dragon. You might tiptoe around it but waking the dragon up will be terrible. Avoidance is key!

4-6+ inches of water weight, multiple feet of snow, now rest on top of this snowpack structure observed on December 8th. 

Avalanche Problem 2
  • Wind Slabs
    Wind Slabs
  • Certain
    Very Likely
  • Historic (D4-5)
    Very Large (D3)
    Large (D2)
    Small (D1)
Wind Slabs
Wind Slab avalanches are the release of a cohesive layer of snow (a slab) formed by the wind. Wind typically transports snow from the upwind sides of terrain features and deposits snow on the downwind side. Wind slabs are often smooth and rounded and sometimes sound hollow, and can range from soft to hard. Wind slabs that form over a persistent weak layer (surface hoar, depth hoar, or near-surface facets) may be termed Persistent Slabs or may develop into Persistent Slabs.

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

In the Alpine there is plenty of new snow to blow around and an additional 2-6″ is forecasted to fall throughout the day. Easterly winds gusting into the 40s will load leeward slopes today and triggering a fresh wind slab will be likely. Look for drifting and cracking and avoid hollow sounding snow. These same slopes may also have a deep slab problem. Triggering an avalanche in the upper snowpack may have the potential step down. 

Video from the National Avalanche Center Encyclopedia

Fri, December 15th, 2017

Yesterday was overcast with light snow showers on and off throughout the day.   Easterly winds were light 5-10 with a few gusts into the teens. Temperatures were in the mid 20Fs to low 30Fs. There was a cooling trend overnight.  

Today is forecasted to be mostly cloudy with snow showers during the day with snow likely tonight. 2-6″ of snow expected to fall today and 4-10″ tonight. Temperatures will be in the mid 20Fs to low 30Fs. Winds will be easterly 15-25 gusting into the 40s. Rain/snow line will be approximately 500′ today dropping to sea level tonight.  

Tomorrow should see continued snow showers, decreasing winds and cooler temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, “The long term will continue to see rather active weather, though  cooler (more seasonable) temperatures should move back in.” #snowtosealevel

* Sunburst weather station is down due to loss of battery power.
** Seattle Ridge anemometer is rimed and not reporting.

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

  Temp Avg (F) Snow (in) Water (in) Snow Depth (in)
Center Ridge (1880′) 30    0  0 25  
Summit Lake (1400′) 28  0  0 9  
Alyeska Mid (1700′) 30  0  0  18

RIDGETOP 24-hour data (6am – 6am)

  Temp Avg (F) Wind Dir Wind Avg (mph) Wind Gust (mph)
Sunburst (3812′) *n/a   *n/a   *n/a   *n/a  
Seattle Ridge (2400′)  25 **n/a   **n/a    **n/a
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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.