A foot to three feet of new snow was blanketing Alaska’s Kenai, Chugach and Talkeetna mountains Saturday night, and it had bonded to almost nothing.
That had avalanche dangers growing everywhere from the mountains rimming the Matanuska-Susitna Valley south to the port of Seward at the head of Resurrection Bay.
The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center issued a “special avalanche bulletin” for the south and western Kenai Mountains, including popular snowmachine riding areas such as Summit and Lost lakes.
Conditions in skier-popular Turnagain Pass were reported as moderate on Saturday, but in flux as snow continued to fall.
“… There is still some uncertainty about how much snow will fall and which sections of the avalanche advisory area will be favored,” the center reported. “Turnagain Pass could receive anywhere from four inches to over a foot today. If the upper amounts are received there is potential for storm slab avalanches in places where the new snow doesn’t bond to old snow surfaces. In addition to paying attention to new snow amounts watch for temperature changes within the storm. Warmer snow falling on colder snow can quickly make reactive slab conditions.”
The situation was similar in the popular Hatcher Pass area north of Anchorage. It had received more than a foot of new snow since Thursday.
Alaska is the nation’s per capita leader in avalanche fatalities, but so far this winter no one has died. That might have been in part to an early season snow drought that lingered into the start of December.
That has been rapidly changing in the new year. Since January 1, Anchorage has received twice its average snowfall for the month and is more than a foot above normal for the season.
The latest storm to roll into the region dumped more than a foot of snow on Anchorage’s Potter Valley by 4 p.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Almost three feet had fallen at Moose Pass on the Kenai.
Most of the snow reports were from lower elevation areas. Greater snow falls were expected at elevation.
By this time last year, avalanches had claimed the lives of three people, and three more would die before the winter was over, according to the Alaska Avalanche Information Center. It was the deadliest winter since 2011-12.