PNW Practices Random Acts of Avalanche Destruction

| January 9, 2009
One of the defining moments in my life (Ski Career 1.0) was sitting in a cabin at Alpental outside of Seattle watching it rain so hard that the windows looked like a braided river crossing.  It was the middle of February and not only were the slopes barren mounds of mud, but there were gushing rivers of brown water splitting them.  It was about this time that I decided that going to college might be a good idea.

It was during a rain event like this a few days ago that the main run at the Hyak ski area right near Alpental climax avalanched to the ground, tore out a bunch of lift towers, destroyed buildings and shoved houses off of their foundations.  This was a 4-6 foot crown line that ran on a slope that was somewhere in the 25 degree range.

Hot tub anyone?
Hot tub anyone?  photo: Misha Stachowiak


Pacific Northwest style groomers.  photo: Misha Stachowiak

 Nobody was hurt in this slide, but it is a good reminder that the mountains are never 100% safe.  If it is steep enough to turn, it is steep enough to slide in the right (or wrong) conditions.
Help support and stand in the rain in style with a Mountain Hardwear Epic Jacket on sale now at Click on the photo below…


Category: current conditions

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

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  1. CesarO says:

    Alpental is a favorite backcountry area to ski and when you see this climax slide on the relatively low-angled Hyak slope, as you mentioned Andrew, it makes one wonder what’s happening on the steeper bc terrain around Aly… I plan to find out soon as the avy danger is finally subsiding here in the PNW. The usual (and unwelcomed) Pineapple Express we seem to get every winter up this way is always full of surprises.

  2. Michael says:

    Is this a climax avalanche, landslide, or both? There must be countless spectacular topography changes all over the North Cascades. Crikey!

  3. Mike Traslin says:

    Wow!Things are getting very scary on the north shore mountains and whistler as well!Actually the whole coast range!
    Normally I have been able to hit the steeps.I have not seen or heard of conditions like this since the late 70’s though I was just a tad pole in the 70’s so I did not see much anyways!
    I hope everyone plays safe on the coast and cascades,because I know how everyone is accustomed to hitting the steeps year after year with out much thought!

  4. Andrew says:

    A friend I was skiing with today said that the Hyak slide was technically considered a landslide as the failure mode was liquified mud and that it just happened to have snow on it.

  5. CesarO says:

    Yep, in fact one of the lift towers up at Hyak took a while to topple over after the initial slide, after more land eroded at its base. Last week’s rampant land(mud)slides and record river flooding in PNW was a consequence of multiple days of big snow accumalations (unusual sub-freezing temps) down at sealevel followed by a warming trend (snow levels raising ~ 7K”) with heavy widespread rainfall – damn those fickle weather patterns.

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