Park warns about avalanches on Sun Road

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A cyclist heads down the Going-to-the-Sun Road on Sunday.

Glacier National Park reminds hikers and cyclists to be aware of possible avalanche conditions along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Local cyclist Patrick Scribner found out just how avalanche prone the alpine section of the road can be last week when snow came down during his ride to triple arches. According to Scribner, he was never in danger from the small avalanche, but he feels it would have been sufficient to carry a vehicle off the edge of the roadway.

Slides crossed the road last week as temperatures warmed up and the snowpack became unstable.

According to park spokeswoman Lauren Alley, avalanches are not uncommon on that part of the road this time of year.

“The alpine section of the road can be particularly prone to avalanches this time of year. Avalanches can happen at many times, but especially as temperatures warm up during the day and the snowpack begins to destabilize,” she said. “It’s all about the level of risk. If it’s a warm day, you can reduce your risk by not traveling into avalanche country.”

For those who are cycling along the Sun Road, Alley says said there are several avalanche safety tips to keep in mind.

Late-season avalanches can occur at higher elevations. If evidence of a recent avalanche, like fresh snow piles on the road, is seen, do not cross avalanche debris. Visitors should turn around, as more snow could slide. Hikers and bikers should travel with a friend and have a plan for getting help. If crossing an avalanche chute cannot be avoided, people should move across one person at a time while another acts as lookout.

As the plowing crews make their way up to Logan Pass, the plowed sections behind them are available to hikers and cyclists. Crews will mark the closure of the hiker-biker section of the road with a sign, as visitors are not permitted beyond this point while the crews are plowing. After work hours, or on days the crews are not plowing, hikers and cyclists can travel as far along the road as they like.

Under current National Park Service policy, electric bicycles may not use roads closed to motor vehicles, including portions of the Going-to-the-Sun Road while it is still closed to public vehicle traffic. These roads are currently open only to pedestrians and non-electric bicycles during the spring hiker-biker season.

“Just like with any activity in the park, there is a lot of personal responsibility that goes along with cycling on the Going to the Sun Road,” Alley said. “If you are in the backcountry and a storm rolls in, you have a lot of responsibility to get to a safe spot. Avalanche safety uses the same concept. The road is basically a trail until it opens to traffic and visitors need to be prepared if they are going to be up in that terrain. You can have an amazing bike up the Going-to-the-Sun Road without getting into significant avalanche country. That said, any recreation still poses some degree of risk.”

For more information on spring cycling in Glacier Park, visit www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/bicycling.htm.

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