PALMER — After a brief time where the snow in Hatcher Pass above 2,500 feet had been downgraded to moderate avalanche danger, the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center reclassified the slopes at or above 2,500 feet as considerable for avalanche probability.
“A series of strong storms brought 17 (inches) of snow, strong (southeast) ridge top winds, and moderate valley bottom winds since Friday (Dec, 28). Another round of dangerous avalanche conditions is expected, as our thin, weak snowpack has been overloaded once again. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision making will be essential if you venture into the mountains of Hatcher Pass today. Natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered avalanches are likely at upper elevations (more than 3,000 feet) on wind-loaded slopes,” reads the conditions update on alaskasnow.org/hatcher-pass posted Thursday morning.
The difference between conditions updates posted on the website on Thursday and the Avalanche advisory, also referred to as the forecast, is that conditions updates to not come with an avalanche rating. Skiers who may have seen the updated information and an avalanche advisory level of none should review further observations and avalanche advisories that are posted on Saturday. Conditions updates posted Thursday are valid for a period of 24 hours.
The snow reports and individual observations that can be seen on alaskasnow.org/hatcherpass were downgraded to moderate on Dec. 28. Forecasters warned that moderate avalanche probability does not equal safety, and backcountry adventurers should use caution, especially when skiing on slopes above 35 degrees. The forecast on Dec. 28 warned that with new snow and wind in the forecast for New Year’s Eve, the snow could rise to considerable avalanche danger, which it did. HPAC wants skiers to avoid steep slopes with terrain traps and choose slopes with gentle fanning run outs. The slab stability of the snowpack is slowly increasing, but still flawed. While the probability of an avalanche has decreased, the consequences of getting caught in an avalanche have not. On Dec. 28, professional avalanche forecasters observed a remotely triggered avalanche from over 350 feet away. Jed Workman and Allie Barker with HPAC wrote observations of the remotely triggered avalanche on Hatch Peak that accumulated debris depth of up to 10 feet in terrain traps. The snowpack is old and composed of weak, soft faceted snow at mid level elevations. Workman and Barker observed that the wind has been light by Hatcher Pass standards.