Forecasters warn of heavy snow and high avalanche danger across eastern Kenai Peninsula, including Turnagain Pass

Heavy snow and high winds are making large avalanches highly likely in the mountains south of Anchorage, authorities said Saturday.

The National Weather Service is forecasting heavy snow across the eastern Kenai Peninsula, with 10-18 inches expected north of Moose Pass and 5-10 inches south of Moose Pass. Wind gusts to 35 mph are forecast in the region. The weather service issued a winter storm warning from 10 a.m. Saturday until midnight.

An avalanche warning was issued by the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center from Girdwood to Seward, including Turnagain Pass, and remains in place until 6 a.m. Sunday. Backcountry travel in the region isn’t recommended, the center said.

“Two strong storms within 48 hours are rapidly loading the snowpack and creating very unstable avalanche conditions,” the center wrote in its Saturday forecast.

“Large to very large natural and human triggered avalanches ... are almost certain. We recommend avoiding avalanche terrain today and being aware of any overhead slopes that could release naturally and run out down to lower elevations.”

Avalanche forecaster John Sykes described seeing signs of snow instability such as shooting cracks and snow layer collapses Friday at Tincan, a popular destination for backcountry skiers at Turnagain Pass, and he also wrote that newly fallen dense, moist snow appeared to be bonding poorly with the existing snow surface.

Sykes wrote that Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center forecasters on Saturday expected wind speeds to increase to 40 to 60 mph on average, with gusts of more than 80 mph possible.

Because of the conditions, the center postponed an avalanche awareness event scheduled for Saturday at Turnagain Pass.