Passes Closed Due to Avalanche Threat

Photo by Will Turner from Unsplash

Starting on Jan. 6, 2022, the four major passes (Blewett, Snoqualmie, Stevens, and White) were closed due to high avalanche threats from the intense weather and snowstorms. It has been 13 years since all four passes were last closed simultaneously. While Blewett, Stevens, and Snoqualmie are now deemed safe to drive through, White Pass remains closed as there is still a high danger of avalanches as of Jan. 13. Thankfully due to recognizing the dangerous conditions on these passes, no one has been fatally injured, but two skiers were buried due to an avalanche at Alpental. They were able to safely be rescued without needing medical attention. 

Scientists have found that there are many reasons avalanches start, not only from echoing voices, but also heavy snowstorms, pressure on slopes, snow on top of an ice layer, and warm temperatures. Washington recently has experienced snowstorms with more snow than usual, which has caused problems throughout the western part of the state including King County. In addition to the abnormal snowstorms, avalanche threats are increased by Washington experiencing “the warmest storm of the season” according to the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC). These conditions have caused a considerable danger for mountain sports and driving through passes, thus the reason for closures. 

With Blewett and Snoqualmie Pass opening, the NWAC cautions there is still a considerable avalanche danger and those who participate in mountain sports should be wary. The best way to be safe is to be prepared before hitting the slopes or snow hiking. Before doing mountain activities, get avalanche training which is offered at many outdoor activity places and stores in Bellevue and Seattle. First and foremost, whenever on the mountain follow the buddy system and always be looking out for your partner. Next, have essential gear like a transceiver so someone can find you in the snow, a probe to find your partner in the snow, and a shovel if your partner is buried. Having the knowledge and tools are valuable when caught in an avalanche, being that after roughly 15 minutes survival rates become very low.

Before deciding to go play on the mountain, there are some things to research beforehand. Check to see if the slopes or hiking areas you are planning on using are at risk of avalanches. Usually, ski resorts will mark which slopes are riskier than others. For backcountry, check the NWAC website. Additionally, check the snowpack conditions. While on the mountain, despite avalanches being sudden, there are certain signals of an avalanche: cracks appear in the snow, the ground feels hollow, and a whumph noise. Once the avalanche begins, run perpendicular to the avalanche or jump above the fracture line if it starts beneath you. If you are swept up into the avalanche, grab a hold of something sturdy, try to swim with it, and cup your hands around your mouth creating an air pocket.