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Is it safe to go in the backcountry? Avalanche experts test mountains for possible concerns

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SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. –A winter weather advisory is in effect until midnight for the North Cascades.

The heaviest amount of snow was expected to fall Monday afternoon through the evening in the mountain passes — up to 11 inches, according to meteorologists.

With the snowfall also brings the risk of avalanches.

So besides the plows making sure the roads were clear along Snoqualmie Pass, Q13 News learned avalanche crews were also testing some of the backcountry areas to make sure those are also safe to be in.

"It's been a fairly busy winter, all things considered," said John Stimberis, avalanche forecast supervisor for Washington State Department of Transportation.

As Stimberis cranked on his snowcat to start the day, he was already thinking ahead for his next avalanche mission in the backcountry and along the highway.

"Oh it's loud," said Stimberis. "Normal avalanche control for us is we stop traffic, clear the area of any personnel, have cleanup equipment close by and detonate explosives above the snowpack."

According to transportation officials, Snoqualmie Pass has closed 18 times so far this winter season because of accidents, snow removal and some avalanche dangers, among other concerns.

"We've had probably 14 avalanches, I believe, that have gone under the bridge," said Stimberis.

According to the avalanche supervisor, the avalanche bridge, just east of the mountain, has made a huge difference this winter.

"We probably would've had an additional 18 avalanche missions," said Stimberis.

So now the question is, is right now the best time for anyone to be out in the backcountry?

"I would proceed in the backcountry with caution at this point," said Stimberis.

"You don't want to be doing it if you're an amateur," said Pat Matthews, who's lived in Chinook Pass for 25 years. "I probably wouldn't do it."

According to the Northwest Avalanche Center, avalanche concerns were moderate for Monday and would increase to considerable for Tuesday.