HATCHER PASS — As winter approaches rapidly and more than three feet of snow is already found atop mountain peaks, forecasters with the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center are preparing to provide their first forecast of the season this Saturday. Multiple avalanches have already occurred, some of which were human triggered.
“Early season has kind of got its own special kind of danger at Hatcher Pass with the thin snowpack and the kind of early season situation we’ve got going on. There’s already been a couple remote triggered avalanches and a couple avalanches triggered by people,” said HPAC Board Chair.
The Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing accurate reporting on snow safety in Hatcher Pass, often an early season gem for backcountry skiers. In a conditions summary posted on Nov. 9, forecasters detail continued heavy snowfall and wind and do not recommend travel in avalanche terrain.
“The storm will start cool and warm up creating an upside down, unstable snowpack, which is also sitting on weak, basal layers near the ground. Warmth at the end of the storm could mean rain on snow at mid to lower elevations,” reads the report. “Expect natural and human triggered avalanches to be likely, and for remote avalanches to be possible. Avalanches will be full depth, fail at the ground, and be large enough to bury, injure or kill a person.”
Through donations and community contributions, HPAC employs two full-time forecasters that produce weekly reports and have hired one part-time staff to help backcountry enthusiasts know the terrain in Hatcher Pass. With another forecaster, Dennis expects more mid-week snow reports and details on snow at the road runs as well.
“It’s early season, eveyrone’s excited to get out. I would say take it down one notch, think about that it’s a long season and you’re going to be able to ride,” said Dennis. “The potential for getting buried and killed is absolutely there so people need to be heads up.”
HPAC will produce avalanche forecasts from this Saturday until mid April once a week to keep those recreating in Hatcher Pass informed. Signs have been installed upon the road to inform skiers, snowboarders and snowmachiners of the danger in the mountains. HPAC will also be providing avalanche safety training in Hatcher Pass in January and Dennis says he hopes that HPAC will be able to provide more avalanche education in the future. With a fatality of a high school student due to an avalanche last year along one of the road runs, Dennis says he hopes to educate more high school students with more time to spend recreating due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re doing our traditional January educational event up at Hatcher Pass with the Snow Riders Club,” said Dennis. “We’re seeing a lot more youths with the kids not being in school and stuff like that. We need to keep those kinds in the loop and keep them educated and keep them safe.”