The true mark of spring’s arrival in the Flathead Valley, the plows in Glacier National Park are rumbling to life this week to embark on the monumental task of clearing Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Park crews are slated to start April 1 with the Camas Road before turning their attention to the park’s iconic 52-mile thoroughfare. Clearing the narrow two-lane road is a challenging task that usually takes 10 weeks depending on weather conditions and snowpack levels. The mountain highway is considered one of the most difficult roads in America to plow. In years past, crews have been hampered by avalanches and significant obstacles, such as the Big Drift, a one-mile section of Sun Road near Logan Pass where typically over 100 feet of snow accumulates in winter.
The current snowpack levels are at 96 percent of average, according to the Flattop Mountain SNOTEL site, a U.S. Geological Survey site sitting at 6,300 feet elevation in the park.
Last year, following a warmer- and drier-than-normal winter, crews buzzed up the road and allowed the National Park Service to open Logan Pass on June 19, two weeks earlier than the previous year.
Opening the Sun Road to vehicle traffic is an accomplishment that draws a significant amount of interest because of its impact on the region’s tourism season, which erupts when the road opens to Logan Pass Visitor Center. Record crowds are expected yet again this year as the NPS celebrates its centennial and Glacier Park’s popularity reaches an all-time high; the park has broken annual visitation records two years in a row.
Roads remain closed to hikers and bikers while plows are working, but the roads are generally open when plows aren’t working.
Crowds will not be hampered by any major rehabilitation projects this summer. On the east side, contractors will work on some updates at Many Glacier Hotel.