PORTLAND - Snoqualmie Pass was closed Tuesday in Washington state, amid high avalanche danger that led to four deaths over the weekend.
The avalanche danger caused by heavy rain on top of snow interrupted travel until late Tuesday morning on I-90 across Snoqualmie Pass, between Ellensburg and North Bend. Transportation Department spokesman Mike Westbay in Yakima said the avalanche danger remains high after nearly 34 inches of snow fell over the weekend. Highway 2 across Stevens Pass was also closed off-and-on Tuesday morning for avalanche control.
Three back country skiers were killed in an avalanche at Stevens Pass on Sunday afternoon. The avalanche occurred at Tunnel Creek Canyon Road in an out of bounds area described as being "ski at your own risk."
A fourth skier in the group survived and credited an airbag backpack device that she had been wearing. Elyse Saugstad said she felt like she was in a washing machine and she was flipped and tumbled by the heavy snow.
Saugstad said she immediately pulled the lever on her avalanche safety backpack, commonly used in Europe. The backpack inflates an airbag around your upper body and lifts you above the avalanche, so you stay on top of the snow.
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Also Sunday, a snowboarder was killed in a separate incident at the Alpental ski area at Snoqualmie Pass. The man was with friends in an area known as Denny Mountain. He was heading down a chute when he triggered a slab avalanche, which swept him off a cliff, the King County Sheriff’s Office said.
KGW Meteorologist Nick Allard said lots of snow at higher elevations can trigger fresh snow to become more unstable due to the rapid change of levels.
Rescuers were able to save a snowmobiler involved in an accident on Moon Mountain, near Bend. The 46-year-old Sherwood man was airlifted to a local hospital and was expected to survive.
Skiers were advised to stay on trails through this week. Allard said levels on Mount Hood were expected at 4,500 feet Monday, back up to 7,000 Tuesday.