KTUU: February Danger

Anchorage Avalanche Center Director, Mat Brunton, on KTUU discussing the particularly dangerous avalanche conditions throughout Southcentral Alaska over President’s Day weekend 2017.

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – After a week of fresh snowfall, avalanche centers across Southcentral are reporting extremely dangerous avalanche conditions and experts are advising people to avoid avalanche terrain over the next few days.

A special announcement on Sunday by the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center said that avalanche danger is “considerable” in the Southern Kenai and the Chugach State Park at elevations above 1,000 feet. Heightened avalanche risk has also been reported for Hatcher Pass.

A snowmachiner on Saturday triggered a minor avalanche near the Seattle Ridge. Although the avalanche broke above him, the snowmachiner was able to ride off the side and was uninjured but experts say the incident highlights a major problem with the current snowpack on the mountains.

“Here around Anchorage we have two serious issues. We got basal weak layers, this really loose un-cohesive snow at the base of the snowpack, that’s exhibiting a lot of signs of danger,” said Mathew Brunton, director of the Anchorage Avalanche Center. “And then closer to the surface, maybe a foot and a half deep, we have a layer of what’s called buried surface hoar, another weak layer that got preserved about a week ago.”

Experts say that weak layer of surface hoar has been buried under several inches of fresh snowfall since Valentine’s Day and is the reason why the snowpack on many mountains is so unstable. Brunton says those conditions have been observed all across Southcentral in recent days.

“We have a range of conditions throughout Southcentral, but it’s pretty sketchy everywhere in general,” Brunton said. “Across the region, conditions are particularly dangerous now and I would say that in Hatcher Pass and Chugach State Park they’re particularly dangerous as compared to anything we’ve had in recent years.”

With overcast weather and poor visibility, Brunton said it’s unlikely there’ll be much traffic on the mountains this President’s Day weekend. But anyone who does want to venture out into avalanche-prone terrain should make sure they have the requisite experience and gear.

“I would advise people to approach avalanche terrain very cautiously,” Brunton said. “Anytime you’re going out anywhere near moderately steep snow covered terrain in the winter to recreate you should have a beacon, a shovel and a probe. Those are the three essential tools would allow you to rescue someone else in your party should there be an avalanche accident.”

With more snow on the forecast heading into this coming week, Brunton says it’s unlikely the avalanche danger will subside at least until next weekend.