Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Plowing snow in July to open the road to Artist Point

It's that time of year again: Time to start clearing the mile-high path to scenic Artist Point.

(Crews clearing snow in 2008.)
SR 542 Clearing Mount Baker Highway

July is usually one of our nicest months of the year in Washington. So it's always weird to me when we're clearing snow from the highway this late in the year.

The short 2.7-mile-long stretch of road to Artist Point at the end of SR 542, Mount Baker Highway, sits above the Mount Baker ski area. It spends most of the year buried in snow and is only open two to three months of the year. Artist Point draws a great multitude of visitors every year because of its iconic views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and surrounding peaks and wilderness.

Crews will start plowing through the snow on Monday, July 6. The work will take up to three weeks to complete. We will hopefully have the road open by late-July.

The June heat-wave helped melt a significant amount of snow for us. As a result, there’s very little snow at the lower gate, near the upper ski lodge. There’s approximately 4 feet of snow at Terminal Lake parking lot. We should have the lower gate moved and the road open to Terminal Lake within the first day or two of work. After that, the snow gets deeper and the work gets harder. We don’t know yet how much snow is at the top. We haven’t been up there to see it.

Artist Point enthusiasts can follow our progress with pictures, videos and a GPS tracking device from the Artist Point Web site - www.wsdot.wa.gov/Northwest/Baker/ArtistPoint/.

Every year we field questions and comments from business owners, locals and tourists wanting to know when the road will open and why it hasn't opened already. Here is a bulleted list of what we usually respond with:

  • We have to coordinate our work with the US Forest Service because they own and operate the lands and trails surrounding the highway. We coordinate our efforts with them, making sure they're ready to open as well.
  • We either borrow equipment from other areas of the state or rent equipment to help with the snow removal. If we're borrowing, then we have to wait for the equipment to get freed up for our use. If we're renting, then we want to rent it at the optimal time so that we don't have to pay when we're not using it (e.g., over a holiday weekend).
  • The road to Artist Point is nearly a mile above sea level. Since it's so high, it's subject to inclement weather (and snow) far later into the season than lower elevation areas. And, since the road is bombarded with nasty weather, it's void of many of your typical safety features, like guardrail, to protect drivers. They just wouldn't last long enough to make it worth it. We have to make sure the road is safe to open to drivers and that weather/snow threats have subsided before opening.
  • We have to schedule around other projects crews are doing.
  • Then there's a little thing called the budget that we have to stick to as well.
For the last six years the road has opened in late June or some time in July. We opened the road to Artist Point last year on July 18, 10 days earlier than we did in 2007, and 9 days earlier than we did in 2006. The road opened on June 29 in 2005 and June 30 in 2004. And the road opened on July 15 in 2003. Here's the history, if you'd like to see for yourself - www.wsdot.wa.gov/Northwest/Baker/ArtistPoint/history.htm.

Last year's pictures and videos of the opening can be found on our Flickr account - www.flickr.com/photos/wsdot/sets/72157605703374272/. They’re pretty spectacular.

SR 542 Mount Shuksan in View

For those of you who can't wait to get up to Artist Point before the road is open, we ask that you please be mindful of our crews and the equipment. It's a difficult enough task to clear the snow from the highway without having to worry about visitors getting too close to the work. For your safety and our peace of mind, please stay out of the way. Thank you for your help.

2 comments:

Ski Travel Centre said...

Wow some great pics there. Cannot believe how deep that snow is with the truck clearing the way.

Jeffrey said...

Definitely some great pics there.

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