Turnagain Pass opens for motorized use despite high avalanche danger warning

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Turnagain Pass, the popular ski, snowboard and snowmachine area just south of Anchorage's municipal limits, opened for motorized use Monday morning.

"You’re swimming in it," said Nathan Skains, of Palmer, who made the drive south for the snow. "You fall, you’re going to need your buddy to get you out, because there’s no getting out of it. There’s so much."

The opening, however, coincides with a HIGH AVALANCHE DANGER warning from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center and advisories from the National Weather Service.

A backcountry avalanche warning was issued through the NWS Sunday. That remains in effect until 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26, for Turnagain Pass, Kenai, the western Chugach Mountains, and in and around Turnagain Arm. Recommendations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are that backcountry travelers should stay off of, and out from underneath, slopes steeper than 30 degrees. As avalanches may run long distances, people should choose conservative terrain.

CNFAIC also recommends people avoid avalanche terrain until the most recent storm settles. Heavy snowfall and strong winds have created the high avalanche danger, mainly due to widespread areas of unstable snow, expected by ANFAIC on all slopes at least 30 degrees and steeper as well as runout zones, too.

Jared Phelps broke trail for some backcountry touring early Monday morning on the south side of the Seward Hwy in Turnagain pass and saw many red flags, "There was a roll over just at the top of the trees and another skier skied over it and the whole thing broke out and there were big piles of debris coming down, it was a small avalanche," said Phelps, "Wait a little bit before you go into the high alpine, be patient on that for sure."

Large avalanches are expected to release naturally, be easily triggered by people, and to run to elevations below 1,000 feet.

"There is plenty of fun riding to be had in the flats, away from avalanche terrain and runout zones," the advisory reads.

Parking lots had not been plowed as of 11 p.m. Christmas Day due to berms being too large for trucks to drive in.

The following are the statuses for areas in the Glacier and Seward Districts. Riding status is not associated with avalanche danger.

As of Dec. 25:
Johnson Pass: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Placer River: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Skookum Drainage: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Turnagain Pass: Open to motorized use at 7 a.m. Dec. 26.
Twentymile: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Carter Lake: Open to motorized use.
Lost Lake Trail: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Primrose Trail: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Resurrection Pass Trail: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Snug Harbor: Open to motorized use.
South Fork Snow River Corridor: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.
Summit Lake: Closed due to inefficient snow cover.

Officials are asking that people be respectful of other closures around the forest. For more information from CNFAIC, click here.

Channel 2's Dan Carpenter contributed to this report.