Snow brings an end to Artist Point road’s longest season

 by Tom Pearce

When the gate closes only hikers, skiers and
snowshoers can get to Artist Point.
After the longest season on record, we shut down State Route 542 just east of the Mount Baker Ski Area on Thursday, Oct. 23; the road to Artist Point is now closed for the winter. This section of highway will remain closed to vehicles until next summer.

It was a great year for Artist Point fans, who began calling in early June to find out if it was open. The earliest we’ve ever opened the road is June 30. We had callers from New York, California and Canada, among other locations. A couple of callers had guests coming in from Germany and the Middle East and wanted to take them up to see the breath-taking views.

Thousands of people travel to Artist Point each summer for views like this.
Artist Point was open for 115 days this year, eclipsing the old mark of 111 days set in 2004. The July 1 opening matched the second earliest, and the road has had just three later closing dates, the latest being Oct. 26, 2011. We’ve only been keeping records since 2002, but the area’s history reaches back much further.

Once snow starts to accumulate on the road, which reaches its high point at 5,080 feet, it’s time to close the gate. The road has lots of steep hills and curves without guardrails. The reason for no guardrails is that the 30 to 50 feet or more of packed snow that piles up most winters could wreck them. The tons of snow would destroy our signs as well, but we take them down each fall and put them back up in the spring.

The snow still can be 20 feet deep at the parking lot
when the road to Artist Point opens.
While we close the road with the first snow of the fall, Artist Point itself remains open all year. You can hike, snowshoe or ski in, but you can’t use any motorized vehicles like ATVs or snowmobiles. Just remember to be prepared for anything, because you travel at your own risk in back-country conditions.

For most of us, though, the closure of the road means the end of the season. We still have our memories, and can look forward to next summer when our workers start to clear the highway. That will take six weeks or more, depending on how much snow we get this winter. And next June, the phone will begin to ring again as folks anxiously await the opening of the road to Artist Point.