Mount Baker Highway crews working hard to clear the highway

If you’re a skier, boarder or snow aficionado of any sort, the closure of Mount Baker Highway is probably an unwelcome pre-holiday present. An unusually potent combination of rain, snow and heavy winds forced us to close the highway (also known as SR 542) Tuesday morning, Dec. 18, just east of Glacier.

We know how important our mountain pass highways are to not only freight traffic but local ski areas – when we close, they close.  We want to get the road back open to drivers (and for the ski areas) as soon as it’s safe, but right now, our crews have to take it day by day. As our maintenance supervisor Theo Donk says: “Things can change completely in three hours.”

And they have. Starting Monday night, Dec. 17, nearly 100 trees came down across the highway in less than 24 hours. It’s now been more than 48 hours, and the tally is up to at least 120 trees – and counting.

Did we mention the snow? More than 6 feet (and counting) since Friday, Dec. 14. It’s a combination that has our maintenance crews on their toes. Donk said it’s the kind of weather that makes the hair stand up on the back of his neck: Whiteout conditions, and the all-too-real threat of a large tree crashing down at any moment.

As the snow continues, larger trees are falling. Not only are limbs snapping off, entire 30-inch-diameter trees that can’t handle the added weight of the snow are coming down across the highway.

Maintenance crews are staged at the Shuksan maintenance camp and ready to tackle the trees (and the snow) – as soon as it’s safe to get out on the road. They’ve got two large excavators, an assortment of chainsaws and plow trucks all on standby, ready to clear the highway at first light.

“We’ve got what we need to do our job – now we’re just waiting to go do it,” Donk said. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”