Regional News

Spring clearing of SR 20 North Cascades Highway starts April 5

Mar 29, 2021

A telltale sign of spring in the Pacific Northwest is the clearing of State Route 20 North Cascades Highway between the Methow and Skagit valleys, and this year’s reopening work is scheduled to start April 5.

Depending on weather conditions, reopening usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks.

More snow than usual
The pass closes every year in late November or early December based on snow conditions. Dozens of avalanche paths cross the highway, making it too dangerous to keep the highway open through the winter. In 2020, the North Cascades closed on Nov. 13. Our maintenance and avalanche control crews assess snow levels and avalanche conditions in early spring to determine a date to begin reopening work.

This year’s snow levels were slightly higher than average and the Liberty Bell avalanche chutes still hold a substantial amount of snow. This presents a potential safety hazard for reopening crews, so allowing for additional melt off makes more manageable and safer conditions for workers.

A yearly effort
Highway maintenance crews on both the east and west sides of the closure will work to remove about 7 feet of snow from the highway. Crews use several specialized equipment pieces for this work, including a larger bulldozer and a “blower” that gathers snow and shoots it off the roadway.

During the work the crews must be attentive to avalanche danger and watch for rocks, tree limbs and other debris that can damage the machinery and delay the clearing. Once the roadway is cleared, crews will repair guardrail, signs, and pavement damaged by snow slides during the closure.

Recreational use
Hikers, skiers, snowmobilers and other recreationalists will still be able to use the highway Fridays through Sundays once clearing begins. However, the roadway behind the closure points will be closed to recreationalists while crews are clearing Mondays through Thursdays. Those planning to recreate behind the highway closure points should be prepared and aware of potential avalanche danger in the area.

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