Avalanche hits Alpine Meadows


Sierra Sun

What a difference seven days make.

Last week some locals wondered if they would have any good snow to ski on this year. This week some Truckee residents wondered if they could make it through the deep snow to the ski lifts.

While the white stuff pleased skiers and snowboarders and revived a worried resort industry, a small avalanche on Alpine Meadows Road Wednesday took its toll on one house and two garages in its path.

No injuries resulted from the snow slide, which occurred at about 11:30 a.m. during routine snow safety procedures on Alpine Meadows Road. Traffic was stopped on the road as a safety precaution.

The avalanche was outside of the Alpine Meadows ski area boundaries.

Another avalanche closed Highway 89 between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows for about an hour late Wednesday afternoon.

High winds forced many resorts, including Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley to put upper lifts on wind hold Wednesday.

Curtis Crooks, assistant director of ski patrol for Squaw Valley, said they recorded a gust of 125 mph on Siberia Ridge early Wednesday morning.

"Everything is real sensitive," Crooks said Wednesday morning. "It's extreme avalanche hazard."

The U.S. Forest Service in Truckee issued an extreme avalanche warning for the backcountry along the east side of the Sierra Nevada from Yuba Pass, Highway 49, to Sonora Pass, Highway 108.

An extreme avalanche hazard denotes that backcountry travel should be avoided as large destructive avalanches are possible. The warning applies outside developed ski areas only.

A report from the Forest Service said that many natural avalanches occurred in the area Wednesday.

Snowfall ranged from 16 inches to 22 inches in a 24-hour period Tuesday to Wednesday, and the moisture content in the snowpack varies, contributing to an unstable snowpack, the Forest Service report said.

While snowfall this winter is

still less than average, the series of intense storms the past nine days has left the snow pack on Donner Summit almost 77 inches, or 123 percent of average for this time of year.

U.S. Forest Service hydrologist Randall Osterhuber said snowfall this winter is only 62 percent of the average, but precipitation this season is at 119 percent.

He attributed the above-average precipitation level to the rainstorms in December and early January.

Sugar Bowl marketing director Greg Murtha said Sugar Bowl had received 82 inches at their base elevation of 6900 feet.

Julie Maurer, Northstar director of marketing, said Wednesday afternoon that Northstar has about eight feet of snow at the resort's highest elevation of 8600 feet, with as much as three feet falling in a 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Murtha noted that the most recent storms were accompanied by warmer temperatures and, therefore, denser snow.

"The first few storms, we were seeing snow of 5 to 7 percent moisture content - champagne powder. Now we're seeing stuff of 20 to 25 percent. It's definitely gotten warmer and the moisture content has gone way up," Murtha said.

Sugar Bowl's base depth has increased from 18 inches early last week to 72 inches as of yesterday morning.

Jay Carpenter, a California Highway Patrol spokesman, said the weather this week hasn't caused any major accidents, adding that CHP officers have responded to more than a dozen vehicle accidents, but none that involved serious injury. Most of the accident s were on Interstate 80.

According to National Weather Service meteorologist Jon Corey, a high pressure system should move over the area today.

"Overall trend is to see a general high pressure area move over us. We'll begin to see the effects of that (Wednesday night). (Today) the snow will taper off and winds will decrease," Corey said, adding that they expected the weather to remain fairly clea r at least through the early part of the week.

"There is a threat of getting some light precipitation over the weekend, but snow levels will be significantly higher," he said.

Corey said that the next organized weather system could hit the area on Tuesday.