Crews punch through Big Drift in Glacier Park

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  • Crews at Glacier National Park mop up Wednesday at the Big Drift, where crews from the east side of the park met crews from the west side to complete the plowing of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Pavement preservation work will prevent the road opening to vehicle traffic until at least June 22. (Duncan Adams/Daily Inter Lake)

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  • Crews at Glacier National Park mop up Wednesday at the Big Drift, where crews from the east side of the park met crews from the west side to complete the plowing of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Pavement preservation work will prevent the road opening to vehicle traffic until at least June 22. (Duncan Adams/Daily Inter Lake)

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The work requires steady nerves, acknowledged the boss.

“If anybody’s scared, we don’t put them up here,” said Stan Stahr, 69, longtime road supervisor at Glacier National Park.

Plow crews punched through the Big Drift on Wednesday, officially completing the bulk of this year’s snow removal along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The Big Drift, sited east of Logan Pass, can host snow depths of 40 to 80 feet. It is typically the location each spring where plow crews from the east portion of the park meet plow crews from the west.

And it can be a dangerous spot if a heavy equipment operator loses track of the precipitous edge of the road.

Brian Paul, the park’s road work leader, talked Wednesday about the annual snow removal endeavor.

“I’d say the biggest risk is the avalanches,” Paul said.

He said crews this year dealt with 38 avalanches that dumped snow on the iconic road that had to be replowed.

Erich Peitzsch, a physical scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, tracks and forecasts avalanche potential along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to try to anticipate slides that could endanger crews.

In addition, if a worker is plowing a stretch of road below a troubling avalanche chute a spotter can be posted to look for signs of an imminent slide.

“Every year we get avalanches,” Peitzsch said, noting that 2019 has been about average.

Plowing began April 3 along the Sun Road.

Even though plowing is formally complete, the earliest the Going-to-the-Sun Road will open to vehicle traffic is June 22 because of pavement preservation work underway in the park that will now move into higher elevations.

In 2018, the Sun Road opened June 22 and closed Sept. 29.

Stahr said the worst year during his tenure for snow removal was 2011, when a combination of heavy snow, rock slides and avalanches challenged crews. The Sun Road opened that year on July 13.

Crews continued to work Wednesday installing log-type guardrails that are removed each year before winter to protect them from avalanche damage.

Glacier National Park was established in 1910. The park officially opened the 51-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road on July 15, 1933, after three decades of construction.

“I don’t see how you could do it today,” Stahr said.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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