December 2, 2016

Weekend Avalanche Outlook

*Avalanche terminology is hyperlinked; click the link to learn more about any term

Recent snowfall (likely 6″+ total in the alpine) combined with moderate wind has increased avalanche danger throughout Chugach State Park.

Avalanche danger is expected to continue to increase through at least Saturday with sustained moderate northerly winds that will further build wind slabs in the upper elevations.

Considering the recent cold weather and thin snowpack, new snow and wind slabs are expected to be especially sensitive to human triggers.  Keep in mind that the moderate winds contributing to wind loading this weekend are atypical (from the NW, rather than the usual SE).   Be especially mindful of potentially dangerous wind slabs on upper elevation leeward terrain (from top and cross loading) and in deposition areas.  Recent avalanches, cracking, collapsing (or “whumphing“), denser and firmer snow, hollow feeling snow (denser wind slab over looser new snow or faceted snow), and deeper areas of wind deposited snow are all clues to potential instability and danger.

Be especially mindful of terrain traps and exposure, both of which could create deadly consequences from even a small avalanche.

Be wary of superficially covered early season hazards like rocks and vegetation that could wreck your body and/or gear for the rest of the season.

The thin, early season snowpack in Chugach State Park is expected to have especially high avalanche potential this weekend due to the new snow and wind that will load slopes rife with persistent weak layers like depth hoar, facets, and surface hoar.

It is also expected to be a brutally cold weekend, so make sure that you’re properly prepared for your adventures with plenty of warmth for any unforeseen circumstances that might have you out longer than expected.  Let a friend staying at home or in town know where you’re going and when you’re expected to return; have an emergency response plan.

That said, it’s expected to be a beautiful weekend with fresh powder and sunshine!  Winter recreation opportunities are increasing with the cold temperatures and snow.  A lot of climbing opportunities have opened up, and the snowpack is developing.  While alpine touring is not yet recommended in Chugach State Park due to the thin snowpack, the fat biking and cross country skiing could be excellent this weekend.

We will be expanding our “observations” this season to a more general emphasis on winter recreation (i.e. alpine and ice climbing, trail conditions, non-avalanche hazard alerts, etc.).  Please let us know what you’re seeing when you’re out adventuring in Chugach State Park; it’s all relevant to this grassroots effort that’s about more than just avalanche information.  This effort is about promoting safe winter recreation in our communal backyard!

Have fun, be safe, and enjoy your public land!

Being “avy savvy” is an important part of being able to maximize your enjoyment of the winter season in Alaska.  Winter recreation can be as, or more, exciting and magical as summer recreation.  Get the skills and knowledge you need by pursuing avalanche and winter backcountry education.  The Anchorage Avalanche Center and Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center provide excellent awareness and introduction classes for free, or a nominal fee.  The Alaska Avalanche School and Backcountry Babes provide excellent courses for those willing to invest more time and money.