The Bottom Line: The hazard rating above treeline is MODERATE. The snowpack currently has good strength and FAIR structure. The primary concern is surface slabs, up to 1', sitting on old snow rotten snow (Near Surface Facets and isolated pockets of Surface Hoar). Triggering a slab avalanche is possible in specific locations: steep, wind loaded terrain - ESPECIALLY where the slabs have built up weak snow. ALSO, glide cracks may release into avalanches at any time . . . limiting/avoiding exposure under them is prudent.
Problem 1: Persistent Slab - (Wind Slab)
Distribution: Isolated slide paths above treeline. Size: small. Likelihood: possible. Sensitivity: stubborn.
Description: The north wind increased on Jan 18th and IS forming new wind slabs on a variety of surfaces including widespread facets and surface hoar. Quick pits (using hands or poles) can help to determine stiffer snow over weaker snow as a sign of slab on a weak layer. Be suspect of wind-loaded features and as always, evaluate the terrain for consequences and use safe travel protocols.
Problem 2: Glide Avalanches.
There are open cracks from the port to 42 mile between 3500-4000' on multiple aspects and on January 8th there was a full release near mile 31 and there were multiple full releases on the Deserted glacier between Jan 12-18. It is important to remember glide cracks can release at any time and are not associated with human triggers. New snowfall is covering up these gaping, crevasse-like features so use caution particularly when traveling in FLAT LIGHT. The best way to manage this problem is to limit (AKA avoid) travel underneath and beside them.
The current list of known open glides cracks from West to East:
A small wind slab was intentionally triggered on Jan 15 in North Odyssey Gulley at 3300' on a wind loaded feature. 10" crown, 30 yards wide.
Please share your field observations including signs of stable snow HERE.
Sunday is forecasted to be mostly sunny with moderate+ north winds and temps between -10 and 20 degrees F. Late on Sunday a weak low pressure system (clouds and precipitation, and a little SE wind) could push in from the gulf all the way into the continental zone.
The most recent NWS rec Forecast can be found HERE:
335 PM AKST Sat Jan 19 2019
The Thompson Pass Mountain Forecast covers the mountains (above
1000 ft) surrounding Keystone Canyon through Thompson Pass to
Temp at 1000` -2- 6 F 3-10 F
Temp at 3000` 0- 7 F -1-10 F
Chance of precip 0% 0%
(above 1000 FT) 0.00 in 0.00 in
(above 1000 FT) 0 in 0 in
Snow level sea level sea level
Wind 3000` ridges NE 12-44 mph NE 10-36 mph
SNOWPACK BIG PICTURE: The snowpack has gained strength since the last major storm and avalanche cycle over New Years. No significant avalanche activity has been reported since then.
Recent snowpack history, from top to bottom:
Jan 13-19 was mostly clear and dry with light to moderate north winds. Widespread Surface Hoar growth.
Jan 12-13 brought 3-10" of new snow with little wind.
Jan 4-12 was VERY cold and dry: moderate winds and wind chill reaching -50F. Pockets of surface hoar and widespread Near Surface Faceting.
Dec 30-Jan 3 The New Year's Eve storm brought nearly 2.5" of SWE to Valdez and almost another 1" (SWE) on the 2-3rd of January. The rain line was 1200' during the Jan 2-3 storm (which has now formed a 1-3" crust locking up all the snow beneath it), it accumulated to over 3' above 2000' near Thompson Pass. Both of these storms had little wind.
Above 4000' the snowpack averages well over 300cm deep and has good strength and structure (few lemons). Below 4000', the snowpack is significantly shallower and has old problem layers that are bonding well (rounding) and currently dormant: facet-crust combos and BASEL facets (all the way to sea level).
If you get out riding, please send in an observation.
Do a rescue practice with your partners. Always carry a beacon, shovel, and probe, and KNOW HOW TO USE THEM.
Practice good risk management, which means only expose one person at a time to slopes 30 degrees and steeper, make group communication and unanimous decision making a priority, and choose your terrain wisely: eliminating unnecessary exposure and planning out your safe zones and escape routes.
The current avalanche hazard rating is MODERATE for the Valdez region. All three regions have the same forecast however; the further interior snowpack is substantially shallower and has more potential problem layers (use caution and always assess the slopes you plan to ride). There has been widespread Surface Hoar and Near Surface Faceting that is a growing concern as wind slabs and are forming and significant snowfall is expected early next week. Click FULL FORECAST for more safety information and please share your field observations HERE.
There are a lot of events coming up in January, check out our Facebook page for the complete list.
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