GLACIER Mount Baker Highway will be closed at least until Friday, Dec. 21, while state Department of Transportation crews remove nearly 100 trees that toppled onto the road because of wet, snowy and windy weather.
The highway is closed from Coal Creek Bridge at mile post 35, just east of Glacier. It has been closed since Wednesday morning.
The closure is affecting Mt. Baker Ski Area, which also has been closed since Wednesday, when so many trees fell that crews couldn't keep up with their removal and prompting DOT to close that portion of the highway out of safety concerns.
"Some of them have just snapped off and fallen because of the weight of the snow," Bronlea Mishler, DOT spokeswoman, said Wednesday.
"They keep coming down," she added. "It's safety. We want to keep drivers safe. We want to keep our crews safe."
About six feet of snow has fallen on the area since Friday, according to Mishler.
The first trees fell Tuesday night. Crews were able to remove those.
But tree after tree began toppling after a windstorm early Wednesday morning combined with more snow and then temperatures warm enough to make the snow sit even heavier on the trees.
DOT crews worked throughout Wednesday to remove the snow-laden trees from the highway. In some cases, the weight of the snow, coupled with the saturated ground, uprooted entire trees, and others snapped and came down across the road.
"It's a road issue. It's not a snow issue," said Gwyn Howat, Mt. Baker operations manager of the reason for the ski area's closure.
Officials hope to reopen the ski area on Friday, with Howat saying that the snow conditions were "fantastic."
"It is special snow right now," Howat said of the "champagne powder" that should be there on Friday when the ski area reopens.
By Friday, snowfall for the ski area could total 100 inches in less than a week, she added.
"It's primo conditions for skiers and snowboarders," Howat said.
But she also cautioned people to be careful because of deep-snow dangers.
On Tuesday morning, a snowboarder visiting from out of state nearly suffocated in deep snow when he fell head-first into a tree well while snowboarding in the back-country just outside the ski area's boundaries, Howat said.
An experienced local resident who also knew how to do deep-snow rescues was passing and saw a portion of the base of the snowboard and dug 6 feet down to extricate the snowboarder, who later said that he couldnt pull himself out.
Howat said people should go online to deepsnowsafety.org for tips on staying safe.
Reach KIE RELYEA at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2234.