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Chugach National Forest, winter wonderland minutes from city lights

Craig Medred

An attempt by the Chugach National Forest Avalanche to warn people of heightened avalanche dangers because of heavy snow, strong winds, rain and now warm temperatures in recent days has apparently worked just a little too well. Irene Lindquist, the trails technician for the Seward Ranger District of the Chugach National Forest, reported Thursday that she is hearing from lots of folks in a panic about possible avalanches, even in non-avalanche areas.

"Awesome, thanks for checking on conditions," she noted in an email, "but we also have had folks needlessly cancel trips to (public use) cabins on Seward Ranger District winter-used trails in areas safe from avalanches."

As a general rule, flatland areas are safe from snowslides as are heavily forested areas, although people traveling in the latter should be aware of large openings oriented in an uphill-downhill direction. Those could be what are called "avalanche runout" areas -- chutes that channel and collect snow coming off the mountains high above. You can see many avalanche run-outs along the Seward Highway on a drive from Anchorage to Girdwood if you want to learn just a tiny bit about avalanches.

Meanwhile, for anyone who might still have concerns about whether it's safe to visit a public-use cabin in Chugach Forest, Lindquist provided a long list of people to call for information about the forest from Turnagain Pass south to Seward:

  • Alex Mclain at 288-7710 for information about the Summit Lake area
  • Pat Cook at 288-7711 for general cabin information
  • Mike Fitzbatrick at 288-7714
  • Pat O'Leary at 288-7702
  • John Eavis at 228-7701 for general information on trails, cabins and the Seward district of the forest. Or you can call Lindquist at 288-7748.

The Chugach Forest, like Anchorage just to the north, has seen unusually large volumes of snow this year. That has both increased avalanche dangers and made travel difficult. Lindquist reported things could be getting better. Warmer temperatures are helping to settle the snowpack, and if the temperature would just drop, it could freeze into a surface great for snowmachines, skis or snowshoes. At the moment, though, snowmachines venturing off any sort of packed trail tend to just get stuck, and a lot of snow and ice bridges have collapsed making it difficult for anyone to cross creeks.

Lindquist did manage to find one bright spot in all of this. If you're out skiing or snowing, she said, there's "lots of good exploring, especially when you can't find the trail because of all the snow."

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com