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Wednesday is 'most likely day...to die' in a Turnagain Pass avalanche

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

Following two weeks of stormy weather, clear skies make Wednesday the “most likely day for somebody to die in an avalanche” in the Turnagain Pass area, the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center warned on its website Wednesday morning.

Considerable avalanche danger above the treeline means that human-triggered avalanches are likely, and the Center advises people to make “conservative route choices.” Below the treeline, avalanche danger is listed as moderate.

The center received reports on Tuesday night of an avalanche on the slope “Repeat Offender,” the site of a large avalanche in 1999 that killed 6 people and injured several others. Tuesday’s avalanche was estimated at 600-1,200 feet wide, and released the entire depth of the snowpack from the past few months.

The avalanche center's primary concern is deep slabs sliding down the slopes on higher terrain. It writes:

The deep slab problem is difficult to understand because it won't show signs of instability until it avalanches in a big way.  You also won't see a lot of slopes avalanching on the same day, meaning that the mountains will look good and enticing.  The problem is that when you find a trigger point, the resulting slide will be much bigger than you want.  This is a low frequency but very high consequence problem that is difficult to predict.

We have compiled ample evidence to show that the mountains are ripe for this to happen again.  Over 10 feet of new snow in the last 2 weeks has already brought down a number of large avalanches including at TincanSeattle RidgeJohnson PassPortage, and elsewhere.  This is the most dangerous persistent deep slab problem we've had in our region in a number of years.  The only way to avoid becoming a statistic is to alter our behavior and choose conservative, lower angle terrain.”

Head to the Avalanche Center website for the most current information for Southcentral Alaska.