Glacier Park Issues Permit For Avalanche Mitigation on Marias Pass

MDT reopens U.S. Highway 2 between Essex and East Glacier Park

By Justin Franz
The Middle Fork Flathead River. Beacon File Photo

Updated: Feb. 7, 4:15 p.m.

Glacier National Park issued a special use permit so BNSF Railway could conduct avalanche mitigation on Marias Pass two days after a snow slide blocked the tracks east of Essex.

According to a press release, the railroad was using a “DaisyBell,” which is a cylinder suspended from a helicopter that can shoot pressure waves at a slope to trigger a slide. The permit also allowed the railroad to use hand charges and an avalauncher as a backup.

“We are working with BNSF Railway to create safe conditions for their employees and passengers along the southern boundary of the park, and will continue to work with them to find long-term solutions,” said Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow.

BNSF’s main line along the southern edge of Glacier National Park was closed after the avalanche was discovered on the tracks late on Sunday. The closure has impacted dozens of freight trains and Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger train.

Late Tuesday, BNSF spokesperson Ross Lane said that the mitigation efforts had been successful but that crews were still clearing snow from the right-of-way. He said they hoped to reopen the track sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Montana Department of Transportation announced that U.S. Highway 2 had reopened between Essex and East Glacier Park with the speed limit reduced to 35 miles per hour.

The Flathead Avalanche Center has issued avalanche warnings for the Whitefish, Swan and Flathead mountain ranges and the southern portion of Glacier park.

Sunday’s avalanche came at the height of a blizzard that pummeled Northwest Montana over the weekend. According to the National Weather Service, 51 inches of snow fell during the storm in East Glacier Park.

The National Weather Service in Missoula said on Tuesday that another foot of snow was in the forecast for parts of Northwest Montana, including Essex and Marias Pass, later this week. The Flathead and Mission valleys would likely receive 2 to 5 inches starting Wednesday night.

The last time Glacier Park issued a special use permit for avalanche mitigation in John F. Stevens Canyon was in 2014 when the railroad was shutdown twice in four days.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.