WINTHROP - Several areas near Washington Pass will be closed to snowmobile and snow bike use through June 30 to provide for the safety of winter recreation users.
Areas covered by the U.S. Forest Service closure are the Blue Lake-Highway 20 hairpin turn (Spiral Gulch), Cutthroat Creek Basin and portions of the south side of Cutthroat Peak.
Although closed to motorists, Highway 20 itself will remain open to over-snow motorized use, as will many backcountry areas near Washington Pass that are popular with snowmobile and snow bike users, the agency said.
Highway 20 is used to access Washington Pass and the surrounding areas for backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, snow biking and other activities. The closed highway provides an access point to high elevation, alpine terrain.
“Despite the area’s popularity and it being open to both motorized and non-motorized winter use, in the past different user groups could expect some level of separation due to terrain and technology limitations,” said Methow Valley District Ranger Chris Furr. “Improvements in snowmobile technology and the introduction of snow bikes, which are rapidly gaining popularity, have increased potential for interactions between user groups.
“This past summer, like many forests, we saw unprecedented levels of use as people sought solace outdoors during the pandemic. That trend is continuing, and we expect use of the Washington Pass area this winter will far exceed what we expect in a typical year. The unusually high use, combined with increased potential for user group interactions, is why we are doing a temporary closure to snowmobiles and snow bikes.”
“In addition to increased overall use, we are expecting an increase in new users who are less familiar with the area and may have varying levels of skill with winter recreation,” said district Recreation Program Manager Rosemary Seifried. “We enjoy seeing new users exploring their national forest, but winter conditions aren’t as forgiving if accidents occur.
“These are avalanche prone areas and the technical terrain, back-country setting and mix of uses in the area can create hazardous conditions with potentially serious consequences for all user groups even under the best of circumstances. The increased levels of use we are seeing in these areas further compound the risks.”
Even with this closure, all users should be aware of and prepared for travel through avalanche-prone terrain, including on the highway, she said.
Closure of the areas to snowmobile and snow bike use during the 2020-21 season is a temporary solution to reduce risks for skiers and other non-motorized users at these locations while continuing to provide many opportunities for snowmobiles and snow bikes in the surrounding areas, officials said.
“We have a long history of user groups working together to resolve conflicts in the Methow Valley and we will be working with those groups to find longer term solutions,” Furr said.
Information on avalanche safety is available from the Northwest Avalanche Center website at https://support.nwac.us/education/. The state Department of Transportation maintains a map of the avalanche paths that cross Highway 20 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/wsdot/5242152043/in/photostream/.
Forest closure information is at 509-996-4000 or www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/okawen/alerts-notices.