Plenty of snow in the hills

By Bruce A. Smith

Spring may be knocking on our door down here in the flat country, but there’s plenty of snow just above us.

Earlier this week, Crystal Mountain Ski Area lost an entire chair lift system and its drive house when a controlled avalanche exceeded its projected size and distance. Videos of the avalance control program at Crystal can be seen on the Ski Channel: http://www.theskichannel.com/news/20140311/video-giant-avalanche-takes-out-chair-lift-at-crystal-mountain/ 

 Even more confirmation that the snow pack in the Cascades is huge comes from the WSDOT.  The following announcement was released today, and the agency’s findings show that ten feet of snow exists at the crest of Route 20, double of what was there last year.  As a result, DOT officials predict that it will take six weeks to clear the road.

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North Cascades Highway clearing to begin March 31

If the weather cooperates, the scenic roadway could be open in six weeks

 TWISP – The effort to reopen the North Cascades Highway will begin Monday, March 31. Despite the heavy late season snowfall, those responsible for the annual reopening effort are optimistic that State Route 20 could be open by early May.

 “Last year it took us less than 4 weeks to clear the highway but this year there’s twice as much snow at the summit”, said Avalanche Control Supervisor Mike Stanford. “It’s likely to take closer to the usual six weeks to reopen this year.”

 On Tuesday, March 11, Washington State Department of Transportation avalanche-control specialists and maintenance technicians toured the North Cascades Highway from the Early Winters information center near Mazama to Washington Pass via snow cat. Along the way they stopped to measure snow depths at two dozen sites. Snow at the summit of Washington Pass measured almost 10 feet, which is double the depth of last year. Snow on the highway below the Liberty Bell avalanche chutes averaged 35 feet deep. Crews observed conditions similar to those they encountered in 2011 when it took approximately six weeks to clear and reopen the highway.

 WSDOT closed the highway for the winter last on Dec. 3, 2013. The highway typically reopens between mid-April and early May.

 To keep up to date on crews progress as they clear the highway drivers can sign up for email updates online.

 Hyperlinks within the release:

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 WSDOT keeps people, businesses and the economy moving by operating and improving the state’s transportation systems. To learn more about what we’re doing, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/news for pictures, videos, news and blogs. Real time traffic information is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic or by dialing 511.

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