A volunteer skier started a project to save lives in the Cascade Mountains.
SNOQUALMIE PASS, Washington. – It was a particularly snowy February in the mountains of western Washington, with feet of snow falling within a few days. Significant storm systems have forced the passes to close, increasing the risk of avalanches for users in the hinterland.
On Friday, Snoqualmie Pass got another foot of snow overnight, increasing the overall season recorded by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to 396 inches or 33 feet. The proof of this is clear: piles of snow reach the top of the light poles and walls of ice are higher than semi-trailers.
Stevens Pass was closed for a period on Friday after avalanche debris covered US 2. WSDOT shared this image of an avalanche that closed part of the US 20 / North Cascades Highway.
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The Northwest Avalanche Center also says that the hazard is high in virtually all cascades and that travel in avalanche areas should be avoided.
So there is no doubt that Scott Waller thinks of avalanches. He is a volunteer skier with King County Search and Rescue and started an avalanche safety improvement project a decade ago.
Waller’s project “Are you peeping?” Installs avalanche beacon test sites and signage at resort gates and forest trails before users enter hazardous terrain. It’s a chance for explorers to turn on their avalanche beacons. The signs also provide information on how to avoid risky terrain and unstable snow conditions.
Waller sees it as a friendly reminder to be prepared for it.
“It’s amazing how people will intend to put their avalanche transceiver on, put it on and turn it on before going into risky areas and then forget about it in their car,” he said.
Some ski resorts have bought the signs he makes at cost, and many are funded through charitable donations.
On Friday, he installed a new one on the Pacific Crest Trail near the Alpental exit off I-90, a popular snowshoe and touring destination. It was funded by the Ski Patrol Rescue Team (SPART), a volunteer crew that works with King County Search and Rescue. Two more control stations will be installed at the backcountry gates of Alpental this weekend.
It’s hard to know if the signs saved lives, Waller said, but that’s the goal.
“That’s the hope,” he said. “That is the hope. It’s hard to measure or quantify that, but I know I’ve sat at trailheads to set these up everywhere and it’s amazing how someone shows up, they’re a backcountry skier and they forgot to turn them on. Yes it happens. I just remind them of it. “
He stressed that in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, these reminders have become especially important as more people hit the trails, including those with less experience.
And as a reminder, many popular summer trails are dangerous in winter. So check the conditions and find out about avalanche and weather hazards.