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Heavy snowfall opens portions of Denali to snowmobiling

Craig Medred

The Gulf of Alaska storms that brought hurricane-force winds and rain to Anchorage carried significant amounts of snow into Interior Alaska, according to the National Park Service, which reports that with several feet on the ground it is opening the 1980 additions to Denali National Park and Preserve to snowmachines.

Snowmachines are the most popular form of off-road travel in the park. The park service publishes an information guide for those unfamiliar with riding in the area. Though there is now adequate snow, park service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin noted that "it is the rider’s responsibility to avoid locations where wind or topographic conditions may have reduced snow depth and created situations where damage to vegetation or soils could occur."

Yes, there are still places lacking enough snow to cover the alder and willow that can make cross-country travel in the park so challenging in the summer. Given that the areas of the park open to riding are a long ride west of the George Parks Highway in country that qualifies as wilderness, riders are advised to carry survival gear and travel in groups.

It wouldn't hurt to have some avalanche training either. Conditions in steep terrain are at the moment unpredictable. Recent snow has not consolidated; rather, it is packed in layers that can slide. Wind-loading in places has only made things more dangerous.

"It is important to avoid steep slopes, narrow valleys, and ravines,'' McLaughlin noted, and be alert to creeks and rivers. "There are many areas of thin ice or open water on rivers,'' she reported. Open water swallows and kills several or more Alaska snowmachine riders every winter.