Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Change means more room to roam for SR 20 winter adventurers

UPDATES
Tuesday, March 26
Due to warmer weather and clearing work from our maintenance crews, we moved the western SR 20 North Cascades Highway seasonal closure gate from milepost 130 to milepost 134. Crews are currently working to determine a date to begin the annual process of reopening the highway. Check the North Cascades Highway webpage for updates.



Thursday, Feb. 7
Due to the weekend forecast for heavy snow, strong winds and cold temperatures throughout western Washington, our crews will move the western SR 20 North Cascades Highway seasonal closure gate west from milepost 134 to milepost 130 at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7. To access to the closed section of highway, skiers, snowmobilers and other users can park at this location near Colonial Creek Campground/Thunder Knob Trailhead.

Thursday, Jan. 31
The extended forecast for the week of Feb. 4, 2019 does call for some low-level snow and cold temperatures in the Diablo area. Crews will continue to clear SR 20 between mileposts 130 and 134 until significant snow or ice builds on the roads. At that time, for the safety of travelers and crew, they will move the seasonal closure gate to milepost 130. We will update this post if that happens.

Thursday, Jan. 24
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 28, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Monday, Feb. 4.

Thursday, Jan. 17
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 21, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Monday, Jan. 28.

Thursday, Jan. 10
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 14, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Tuesday, Jan. 22, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Friday, Jan. 4
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 7, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Monday, Jan. 14.

Thank you to everyone for your feedback. We heard you. Here are the changes we’re making in response:
  • We will close the gates on SR 20 at milepost 134 just as we have every year when the avalanche risk increases.
  • We are committed to keeping the western closure point at that location through at least Jan. 2, 2019.
  • After Jan. 2 we will continue to keep the road open to the gate at milepost 134 until there is significant snowfall to the west, to alleviate concerns about large patches of bare pavement beyond the new closure point at milepost 130.
  • We have heard from many snowmobilers concerned with the change in our operation. We are working with local snowmobile groups to attend/plan a meeting next month to discuss your concerns and talk more in depth about the issues we face on SR 20 while accommodating winter users.

By Andrea E. Petrich

Picture this.

Nothing but blue sky overhead as the bright Pacific Northwest sunshine reflects off jagged mountain peaks and snowfields that are hugging the steep edges of mountains in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades National Park. You move forward and listen to the crunch of hard winter snow under your snowshoes as you breathe in the near-freezing temperatures your properly bundled fingers and toes don’t even notice.

SR 20 North Cascades Highway includes a 35-plus mile stretch of state highway that closes to vehicles each winter due to avalanche risk. During that closure the area remains open to skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, fat-bikers and other winter adventurers to enjoy at their own risk. This winter season, there will be almost four more miles available for those winter activities!
During the SR 20 seasonal highway closure snowshoers, skiers, snowmobilers
 and other winter adventurers use the closed section of highway.
A new closure point
When we first close the highway this season, the closure point will still be at milepost 134 near the Ross Dam Trail. But in January, our maintenance crew will move the western closure point back to the western side of Diablo Lake’s Thunder Arm near The Thunder Knob Trailhead and Colonial Creek Campground, near milepost 130.
The new closure point on SR 20 is at an elevation of 1,410 feet,
 four miles west of the old gate at elevation 2,120.
This new location still provides adequate parking for those who are unloading snowmobiles or otherwise starting their chilly adventure, but it does mean that the start of the closure area is an uphill climb – so you’ll be able to shed those warming layers quicker than you could in the past. The eastern end will close at milepost 171 in Mazama but will also move back to milepost 178 once snow depth increases and becomes too deep for snow blowers. That usually happens in January, meaning there will be 48 miles of traffic-free highway for you to enjoy a winter workout.

The new closure point is at milepost 130, just past Colonial Creek Campground where there is parking available for vehicles, including rigs with trailers pulling snowmobiles.


Why the change?
This move is going to help the budget, allowing our maintenance team to spend funds in other areas – where potholes need to be filled and guardrail needs to be repaired, for example – instead of on clearing this four-mile stretch of highway throughout the winter. While we won’t know the exact savings until after we get through a season, we expect it to be significant when you tally up crew time in the plow, the material use and the time spent cleaning up the sand that we spread for traction.

But what about our yearly highway opening celebration in the spring? By then, our crews will have cleared those final four miles so the opening day crowd will still line up where they have for decades.

Not closed yet!
As of Nov. 20, the highway is still open for the season, and an average of 1,200 vehicles a day cross Rainy Pass to enjoy one of our state’s most beautiful stretches of road. The highway will remain open until snow really starts to fall and avalanche danger increases, usually around Thanksgiving. Then, winter activities can commence until sometime in the spring when the snowfall slows and crews start work to clear the highway for the season.