The annual process of clearing snow from the North Cascades Highway will begin next Monday (April 5) – somewhat later than in the previous few years – the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) announced this week.
Clearing the 37-mile portion of the highway that is closed during the winter usually takes about four to six weeks. Last year, WSDOT began snow clearing on March 23, paused on March 26, resumed on April 13, and opened the highway for travel on May 12. At the time, the state’s COVID restrictions limited travel over the highway to “essential business,” but that did not stem immediate flow of tourists.
WSDOT crews will work from both sides of Washington Pass, Monday through Thursday each week.
The highway officially closed for the winter on Nov. 16 in 2020. In 2019, clearing work began on March 25 and the highway opened on April 18; it closed on Dec. 11 that year.
This year’s snow levels were slightly higher than average and the Liberty Bell avalanche chutes near Washington Pass still hold a substantial amount of snow, WSDOT said in a press release. That presents a potential safety hazard for reopening crews, so allowing for additional melt-off makes more manageable and safer conditions for workers, WSDOT said.
Maintenance crews on both the east and west sides of the closure will work to remove about 7 feet of snow from the highway, WSDOT said. Crews use specialized equipment including a larger bulldozer and a “blower” that gathers snow and shoots it off the roadway.
Crews must be attentive to avalanche danger and watch for rocks, tree limbs and other debris, WSDOT said. Once the roadway is cleared, crews will repair guardrails, signs and pavement damaged by snow slides during the closure.
Hikers, skiers, snowmobilers and other recreationalists will still be able to use the highway Fridays through Sundays once clearing begins. However, the roadway behind the closure points will be closed to recreationalists while crews are clearing Mondays through Thursdays. Those planning to recreate behind the highway closure points should be prepared and aware of potential avalanche dangers, WSDOT said.