Warm rain brings avalanche warning to parts of the Cascades

SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash.-- After a week of storms blanketed the high Cascades with tons of snow-- it's now raining on and off up at Snoqualmie Pass.

The precipitation turns back to snow as temperatures drop overnight. It'll melt a touch tomorrow in areas that see some breaks of sun before more snow falls over the weekend.

That's the kind of beginning of season condition that will make for an unstable snow pack and the threat of avalanches remain high for much of the Cascades from Snoqualmie Pass north into Canada where there's an avalanche warning.

And while ski resorts might be opening soon, other areas in the mountains can still be dangerous.

"It fills up my soul to be out in the mountains," said Kristina Ciari. "I love to be outside."

She's a backcountry skier and has done it every month now for seven years running, so she knows this time of the year is the time to be particularly cautious.

"Especially this early season snow where the layers haven't had a chance to pack down over time,  so you end up with some volatility in these layers, so it's really easy for it to slide," she said at The Mountaineers training center near Magnuson Park in Seattle. "You can get layers of what's called hoar frost, and it's like little ball bearings of snow between two plates. What happens is you put weight on it-- and it can two inches or two feet-- and the whole slab comes down."

Avalanche dangers are much greater right after a big storm or wind event. That's when snow can stack up, blow around, or both.

Rapid warming can make the top layers of snow heavier and more likely to slip.

South facing slopes in our area go through the freeze/thaw cycle more frequently. And sometimes the icy layers embedded in the snow can also cause your favorite summer hiking path to be a dangerous place in the winter.

"Your favorite trail might be prime avalanche terrain, so it's really smart to get educated before you go out there," says Ciari. She's with The Moutaineers, a Seattle-based non-profit dedicated to helping people enjoy the great outdoors safely.

She says snowmobilers and snow shoers can be at the greatest risk of avalanches because people with no winter survival skills can get themselves into trouble very quickly.

So, attending a class or seminar should be the first ting amateurs should do before heading to the high country terrain to play.

"How to pick safe terrain, how to judge what's safe and what's not," she says. "They talk a lot about group dynamics and go through what-if scenarios."

These warnings don't apply to active ski resorts where the conditions are constantly monitored and the slopes are groomed frequently to make for consistent slope conditions for skiers and boarders.

To check for the latest avalanche conditions in the backcountry and classes they offer, check out the website of the Northwest Avalanche Center.

Here's the link for checking on classes and seminars offered by The Mountaineers with several locations, including Seattle and Tacoma.