News & Features

Avalanche Strands Cyclists on Glacier Park’s Sun Road

It took eight hours for park staff to clear a path through a large avalanche to reach 13 cyclists on the far side

A rockslide and an avalanche near Triple Arches on the Going-to-the-Sun Road left 13 cyclists stranded for eight hours on Memorial Day.

Glacier National Park officials closed the Going-to-the-Sun Road above The Loop on May 27 after a separate rockslide came down on the road and prevented emergency vehicle travel. However, many cyclists were already above the rockslide when the closure was put into effect.

Later in the day, a large avalanche came down on the road at Triple Arches. The snow slide was caught on video by a number of visitors in the area.

No one was injured in either the rockslide or avalanche.

Two volunteer bike patrollers were in the area at the time of the slide and relayed a call for help to park dispatch and a team of more than a dozen park staff, including rangers and equipment operators, were mobilized. An avalanche forecaster with the U.S. Geological Survey was also called to the site.

After clearing the rockslide, and ensuring that the avalanche had stabilized, park staff began to clear a path through the avalanche to gain access to the stranded cyclists. The 13 cyclists were trapped on the other side of the slide for about eight hours. Park officials said they were cold, but otherwise in good spirits.

A number of visitors chose to cross the avalanche so that they could continue their ride to Logan Pass. Park officials said that behavior is strongly discouraged and could lead to significant injury. If you must cross an avalanche path as a last resort, use a spotter to watch for additional slide activity up the mountain and cross one at a time.

“If you see fresh snow on the side of the road or across the road, even if you are excited about your bike trip, turn around,” Chief Ranger Paul Austin said in a press release issued Tuesday. “Take responsibility for your safety and though disappointing, plan on heading out another day. Biking along the Going-to-the-Sun Road is not the same as an easy bike trip around town.”

Glacier reminds visitors that conditions change rapidly in the park. Always pack extra food, bring extra clothes, and learn about potential hazards that may exist in the area you plan to visit.

Late last week, plow crews on the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road reached the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The east side crews are now working in the area of Siyeh Bend. Both crews will converge on the “Big Drift” in the coming days, a section of road just east of Logan Pass, that typically sees drifts of 40 to 80 feet deep.

Although plows are making quick work of snow in Glacier Park, it will still be at least a month before the Sun Road opens to vehicle traffic due to road construction. The park is conducting a number of pavement projects, including on the Sun Road, and the earliest the entire road will be open to vehicle traffic will be June 22.

As of May 28, the Sun Road was open to vehicle traffic between West Glacier and Avalanche on the west side and St. Mary to Jackson Glacier Overlook on the east side. Hiker and biker access is currently limited to The Loop on the west side as plow crews continue to work on the alpine sections of highway.