Recent snowfall raises avalanche risk around Kodiak

With Kodiak’s recent heavy snowfall, outdoors enthusiasts may be itching to hit the slopes, but search and rescue members are warning there is a strong risk of avalanche right now.

“Avalanche hazards are the highest right within the first 24 hours after a snowfall or a major snow occurrence,” said Steve Wielebski, president of Kodiak Island Search and Rescue, or KISAR. He says fresh snow is much looser than snow that’s been around for days or weeks. The wind can easily pile up new snow in steep spots before it has a chance to settle.

“You’ll have high avalanche risk within the first 24 hours after a snow because you have to let the snow kind of sit and settle and bond. That new snow has to bond with the old snow layer underneath it.”

Wielebski and his wife went skiing on Pyramid Mountain on Tuesday and noticed the risk right away.

“Every place we skied, it was it was avalanching, because it was a light, dry snow. Anything over I would say maybe 25 degrees — which isn’t very steep — it was just enough that our skis would cut across the snow and the snow would slide. It was too short of a time, the snow hadn’t had time to adhere.”

Both bowls on Pyramid, and any other slopes over 25 degrees — about the angle of a roof pitch — poses avalanche risk right now, according to Wielebski. He recommends staying on ridge lines and avoiding narrow spots where snow could pile up on you, like gullies or creek ravines.

If you do end up on the wrong side of an avalanche, Wielebski says there are few things you can do, like shouting for help before you get buried.

“You want to thrust your arms up. If you start getting buried underneath the snow, try to make sure something’s protruding through the snow.”

If you do start to get buried, Wielebski says to “fight” by wiggling and rolling to stay on top of the cascading snow layer. And of course, he says it’s always best to have a buddy with you, and carry an avalanche beacon, a shovel and a probe.

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