Forecasters say a winter storm is about to dump a lot of snow on Hatcher Pass, and avalanche specialists worry that once the snow stops falling, people will be left with a false sense of security.


Before the bulk of the storm hits, Jed Workman and Allie Barker with the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Information Center geared up to check conditions. They said up until this point, Hatcher Pass was in the midst of an extremely low snow year with a thin, dry base layer.


“We expected to see about 15 inches of weak snow that is not adhering well together,” Barker said. “It’s like sugar or salt in your hand and it’s challenging for new snow to bond to that.”


The avalanche specialists said any additional snow load could add stress that the base snow pack can’t withstand.


During the 2015-2016 season avalanches in Hatcher Pass killed three people. Workman said with this storm, the risk of another deadly slide is about to skyrocket.


He said most avalanches occur with 24 to 48 hours after a storm.


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“One of the setups that we are looking at is having snow on Thursday, having snow on Friday, and then nice, clear, sunny weather on Saturday,” Workman said. “It’s going to be our first big opportunity to unwrap our Christmas presents and come out here and play, but it’s also going to be coupled with the fact that the hazard could rise to high.”


Hatcher Pass avalanche forecasters put out a weekly report every Saturday. It depends on how this storm plays out, but they say it’s likely they’ll recommend people use conservative decision making or stay out of the backcountry this weekend.


“Right now sledding on the hills is not a big deal, even if we get six to eight more inches of snow, not a big deal, but if you head out into the backcountry where people like to play with their skis and hike the big mountains, that’s where avalanches are going to happen,” Workman said.


Because of the weak base layer in Hatcher Pass, avalanche specialists anticipate a long and dangerous avalanche season ahead.


KTVA 11’s Shannon Ballard can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.