Even as a long-awaited dump of snow across Southcentral Alaska has skiers and snowmachiners looking to the slopes, severe cold weather is forecast to put a chill on the fun.
Jason Ahsenmacher, an Anchorage-based National Weather Service meteorologist, said the city's 7.7-inch snowfall Thursday broke a record for Dec. 1 of 6 inches, dating back 42 years to 1974. Although light snowfall continued through Friday, the forecast calls for it to give way to dropping temperatures from an Arctic air mass passing through the Gulf of Alaska.
"Saturday looks really bad for people who are going to be in the backcountry, skiing and the like. Alyeska's going to be really cold," Ahsenmacher said. "On Saturday, in the mountains, it's going to be close to 0 degrees, but if you have a 15 mph wind, the wind chill's probably going to be 30 to 40 below."
The cold air will move into lower elevations overnight Saturday due to a temperature inversion, Ahsenmacher said, then make much of Anchorage "colder and colder" due to limited winter sunlight.
"By Sunday we'll probably be 15 below, 17 below on the east side of Anchorage," Ahsenmacher said. "Even on the west side of Anchorage, where it tends to be warmer, we'll probably be about 0."
The lowest point of the cold snap will likely come Monday morning, when temperatures are expected to hit 25 below in East Anchorage and 10 below in West Anchorage.
Ahsenmacher said the cold air and below-average temperatures will likely linger at least through next week in Anchorage.
"We haven't seen this pattern for three winters," Ahsenmacher said. "It's good news for people who like snow and cold weather — we've got the snow, and now it's going to turn more cold."
The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center issued an advisory Friday indicating moderate avalanche danger in Turnagain Pass above 2,000 feet. A storm that passed through the region overnight Wednesday left a foot of snow in low-lying areas, as well as 6 to 8 inches at higher elevations.
"Wind slab avalanches around a foot thick will be possible to trigger on slopes loaded by the new snow from Wednesday night," CNFAIC staff wrote. "Larger slab avalanches are also possible in areas less traveled where a weak layer remains in the snowpack 2-3′ deep. Safe travel protocol will be essential today and into the weekend."
The Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center said Thursday's snowfall of 3 to 5 inches in the popular Mat-Su recreation spot gave way to diminishing snow Friday and winds between 28 and 34 mph headed into the weekend. That follows a season of limited snowfall, which the center said left the pass in "early season conditions in December with shallow snow coverage and exposed rocks and hazards," but no formal avalanche advisories.
"New snow followed by strong winds could have the potential to build shallow pockets of wind slab," HPAC staff wrote. "While these new wind slabs may be on the shallower and smaller size, they could carry you over a cliff, or potentially bury you in a terrain trap."
Wind-chill advisories were in effect across much of the state Friday, from the Susitna Valley to the Copper River region with gusty winds producing wind chills in the range to 60 below. Snow is forecast for areas north of the Alaska Range.
Here's a more detailed outlook for some of Southcentral Alaska's snow-sports destinations:
Alyeska Resort in Girdwood received 8 inches of snow Thursday and 3 more inches by 8 a.m. Friday, according to its online snow report. Snow was 30 inches deep at the top of the mountain's Glacier Bowl Express, with a total snowfall of 71 inches for the season.
Most daytime lifts will operate from 10:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. through the weekend.
"All open runs are groomed and skiing great!" Alyeska staff wrote.
Alyeska spokesman Ben Napolitano said that the resort's ski patrol was working Friday to prepare more of the mountain for visitors.
"We're going to get more terrain open as we talk to patrol and see what we can get," Napolitano said.
At Hilltop Ski Area, general manager Rick Cramer said the Bald Eagle, Caribou, King Salmon, Moose and Turkey Trench runs will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. He said cold weather hasn't seriously affected turnout at Hilltop in recent days.
"We've been down to 2, 4 degrees earlier this week," Cramer said. "If it gets down to that 0 range, snow's here — skiers are going to come out and enjoy it. It's not until it gets down to that minus-10, wind-chill area that it really affects things."
The Arctic Valley Ski Area in Ship Creek valley, operated by the Anchorage Ski Club, announced an opening date Friday on its Facebook page of Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage had used 2 million gallons of water by Tuesday to make snow as it prepared local trails for skiers, according to its trail reporting website. Here's the status of those trails as of Friday:
Snowmaking loop: Green Loop, parts of Yellow Loop skiable; watch for heavy equipment, avoid ungroomed trails.
Mize, Margaux's lighted loops: Packed
The Anchorage School District's first high-school ski event of the season will be at noon Saturday in Kincaid Park. Service High is hosting the race.
Hillside Lighted Loop, Spencer Loop, Double Bubble: packed and winged.
Trails closed by Eagle River Parks and Recreation due to insufficient snow; prep work continuing
All snowmachining trails in the Glacier and Seward ranger districts remained closed due to insufficient snow cover as of Thursday afternoon, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center reported all of the Hatcher Pass area closed to snowmachining by Alaska State Parks on Thursday.
Chugach State Park's six snowmachining areas remained closed Friday, according to Kurt Hensel, the park's chief ranger. He said this week's snowfall was the first significant accumulation of the season but wasn't enough to let sleds in without them damaging parkland.
"As soon as we get a decent amount of snow, if we can get a base and protect the resource, we'll push to open it," Hensel said.