Just in time for the annual Winthrop ‘49er Days this weekend, the North Cascades Highway is scheduled to open slightly ahead of schedule.
Gates will open to traffic on the highway at noon Thursday, about a week earlier than planned, state Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Adamson said Monday.
“This morning, the east side crew arrived at work to see if there had been any more significant snow slides over the weekend,” Adamson said. “When they left Friday afternoon they had cleaned up 10 slides triggered by Thursday’s helicopter avalanche control work…. There’s still (three and a half) miles of snow separating the east and west crews today, but they’re confident that will be cleared and the widenings, etc., accomplished by Thursday morning.”
“While there had been some minor sloughing, the cool temperatures kept the chutes that still have snow in them, stable. The forecast is for more of the same with gradual warming. That suggests we could well find those chutes will remain stable as they enter their spring ‘melt.’”
If an avalanche hazard crops up, Adamson said Department of Transportation crews will close the highway only long enough to clean up any snow slides and do control work.
The news Monday was met with jubilation from the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the ‘49er Days celebration drawing visitors from around the state.
“The work that the Washington State Department of Transportation does in clearing the highway is just incredible,” Marketing Director Kristen Smith said. “The communication they provide during the process via their email newsletters and photos is exceptional.
“Of course, we are very excited that the pass is opening for ‘49er Days weekend, but we are most excited that WSDOT completed the work safely.”
The highway was closed Dec. 3, 2013. Last year, the highway reopened April 16, only about three weeks after crews began clearing out the snow.
In the highway’s history since it first opened in 1972, it has been closed every winter but one, 1976-77.