GLACIER - Mount Baker Highway east of Glacier could remain closed into the weekend as state Department of Transportation crews continue clearing more than 100 trees that fell onto the highway because of "unusually heavy" storms that brought a crush of wind, snow and rain, the DOT said Thursday, Dec. 20.
The DOT closed that section of the highway Wednesday morning out of safety concerns, which means that the Mt. Baker Ski Area will remain closed as well.
No one has been trapped by the closure, which is roughly a quarter-mile past Chair 9 Woodstone Pizza & Bar.
More than 100 trees toppled west of the ski area within a 48-hour period, according to the DOT.
Crews had hoped to be able to reopen the highway Friday, but the wind continued to kick up Thursday and trees continued to fall - creating unsafe conditions for workers and stymieing their efforts.
"When they come down, they come down really fast. They're full of snow," DOT spokesman Dave Chesson said, adding that crews are working in an area that's heavily wooded.
"They're taking it slow and carefully removing those trees," he said. "We're working as hard as we can."
Crews didn't make as much progress as they had hoped Thursday because of "white-out conditions," Chesson said.
"It was snowing like the dickens," he said Thursday afternoon.
He said there was concern that crews would be unable to hear a tree or limb falling over the sound of chainsaws.
Motorist safety also was a reason for the highway's closure.
"There's no time to get out of the way if one of those trees comes down," Chesson said. "This is a surprising number of trees to come down."
Workers were expected to return at daybreak Friday, with more equipment and additional crew from Mount Vernon. With that and a forecasted break in the weather, they hope to progress enough to reopen the highway Saturday.
That should please skiers and snowboarders hoping to get to Mt. Baker Ski Area, where storms have dumped 98 inches of snow since Sunday, according to ski area officials.
"It's still day to day, but we're a little more hopeful because of the weather break we might get tomorrow," Chesson said Thursday.
But, he stressed, there was no guarantee of a Saturday opening.
"We're kind of crossing our fingers here that we might get a break," Chesson said.
CHECK SKI AREA STATUS
To check on the status of Mt. Baker Ski Area, go online to mtbaker.us.
VIEW MORE PHOTOS
Washington Department of Transportation has posted more photos of the incident at its Flickr page.
Reach KIE RELYEA at email@example.com or call 715-2234.