Avalanche conditions in the Turnagain Pass area were classified as very dangerous Christmas Day continuing into Monday, according to a statement from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center (CNFAIC).

The avalanche alert followed a backcountry warning from the National Weather Service, which forecasted fresh snow in the area. The warning will remain in effect until 6 p.m. Monday.

“The new snow is denser than the underlying old snow – creating an upside down and unstable snowpack,” CNFAIC explained in the alert. “Avoiding slopes over 30 degrees in treed areas is also recommended. Due to the weak faceted snow below the new snow the snowpack is ‘bottomless.’ Movement through the snow was challenging yesterday and will only be more of a struggle today.”

Monday was the first day for snowmachine access in the Turnagain Pass area. CNFAIC reported that natural and human-triggered avalanches were likely.

“Turnagain Pass is now open to motorized use,” CNFAIC wrote. “This opening happens to coincide with high avalanche danger! It is recommended to avoid avalanche terrain until this storm settles. There is plenty of fun riding to be had in the flats, away from avalanche terrain and runout zones.”

The alert from CNFAIC noted that two-feet-deep natural avalanches were observed recently, “long running and large enough to bury and kill a person. Cracking and collapsing (whumpfing) were also observed.”

Drivers in the area were also asked to use caution and be patient with plowing efforts by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. DOT crews were prioritizing the Seward Highway over recreation area parking lots, according to CNFAIC. Drivers were urged not to park along the highway.

“DOT plow drivers are doing their best to keep up with this storm,” CNFAIC wrote. “As of last night 11 p.m., parking lots have not been plowed yet at Turnagain Pass. Berms were too large to drive a truck in.”

For more information on conditions in the affected area, visit the CNFAIC website.

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