Snowmachiners, skiers hit Turnagain, Alyeska slopes

Mike Campbell

Lured by bluebird skies, snowmachiners and skiers flocked to slopes south of Anchorage on Friday to sample the fresh coat of snow deposited on Thanksgiving.

Sandy Chio, marketing manager at Alyeska Resort, estimated Friday's crowd on the Girdwood mountain between 1,500 to 2,000 skiers and boarders, eager to cut turns in 14 inches of snow that had fallen during the past two days.

"It's bluebird out," she said early Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, to the south, snowmachiners and backcountry skiers were exploring Turnagain Pass.

Early Friday morning, forecaster Matt Murphy with the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center issued a warning of "heightened avalanche conditions" on some terrain, which could escalate if wind moves the snow around.

Rapidly cooling temperatures Thursday night and early Friday had dipped to 17 degrees at 2,400 feet of elevation, a 10-degree drop in 24 hours.

"There is a 1/4-inch thick rain crust that extends up to the ridge tops at least 3,500 feet," Murphy wrote in his avalanche report. "It is widespread throughout the Turnagain Arm area. This crust has all the characteristics to become a very dangerous weak layer as soon as there is more snow on top of it.

"The snow on top of this crust seems to be bonding fairly well at lower to mid elevations where the snow fell at warmer temperatures.

"Above 2,500 feet, however, the snow on top of the crust is not bonding well because of drier colder snow at these higher elevations. One of our observers found perfectly round ice pellets on top of the rain crust."

With the temperature changing so rapidly, backcountry skiers and snowmachiners should check the daily advisory before heading out this weekend.