A Snohomish County sheriff’s Search & Rescue helicopter crew captured the snowfall at the Mount Pilchuck lookout earlier this month. The lookout is atop the 5,300-foot peak east of Granite Falls in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The crew was in the area for training. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

A Snohomish County sheriff’s Search & Rescue helicopter crew captured the snowfall at the Mount Pilchuck lookout earlier this month. The lookout is atop the 5,300-foot peak east of Granite Falls in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The crew was in the area for training. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Avalanche danger is high in Cascade Range

EVERETT — A mountain rescuer fears a snowy calamity.

Snow has fallen heavily for several days in the Cascade Range.

Families are taking time off from work and school to spend days skiing and snowshoeing.

And recent winter storms have created dangerous avalanche conditions in the back country of the Cascades.

“You have all of the ingredients for something to go wrong,” said Oyvind Henningsen with the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team and Everett Mountain Rescue Unit.

There is an elevated avalanche danger in the back country of the Cascades, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.

“There have already been fairly significant avalanches in the Mount Baker area,” center director Kenny Kramer said.

Hikers, skiers and people snowshoeing triggered numerous avalanches Tuesday, Kramer said.

Strong gusts also can exacerbate the risk of avalanches, Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said.

Wind pushes snow around and creates overhangs on mountain sides. These cornices can build up to tremendous size and weight.

At some point, they break loose.

Most of the time when people are caught in avalanches, there have been a series of storms such as these.

The powder snow makes for good skiing, Henningsen said.

Shortly after 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the parking lot at Stevens Pass was full.

The ranger station in Darrington also received multiple phone calls inquiring about access to hiking trails.

“There’s a lot of avalanches going on, but luckily, none of them have involved people,” Henningsen said.

He has worked for the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team for the past five years. Typically, the team is called out three or four times a year for rescue missions.

When conditions are too poor to see people stranded on the mountain from the air, Henningsen and the rest of the Everett Mountain Rescue Unit are called in.

They are deployed more than 10 times each year.

“You don’t have to be very high in the mountains to be in dangerous terrain,” Henningsen said.

Rangers from the Darrington district office have put up signs to warn mountain travellers about treacherous areas, including the Big Four Ice Caves.

Henningsen recommended that for now, skiers stick to the designated ski areas and hikers seek out trails in flat terrain.

“It’s a question of knowing the risk, knowing the area you’re going to and understanding some slopes are more prone to avalanches than others,” Forbes said.

A winter storm warning is in effect in the Cascades until Wednesday morning.

An additional two feet of snow could fall by then.

The state Department of Transportation has crews that focus on controlling avalanche conditions along mountain passes.

Meanwhile, communities tucked away in the mountains, such as Darrington, may see light snow over the next few days, as temperatures stay in the mid-30s.

Cities close to sea level can expect rain through the rest of the week with possible snow Saturday night and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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