Hatcher Pass Road to remain closed for at least 2 more weeks

Photo taken by the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center on Feb. 19, 2022. (Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center)

The Hatcher Pass Road will likely remain closed for at least another two weeks, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

DOT spokesperson Jill Reese said reopening the road following last month’s avalanches is a lengthy process. The first step is mitigation work, which involves dropping charges from a helicopter to trigger any remaining avalanche debris. Then, workers can clear the remaining snow, which will take another week or more. 

“It’s probably going to be a week before we are even able to do the mitigation, because it just takes a while to put all these logistics together,” Reese said.

Another challenge is coordinating with an avalanche specialist, who must be on site during the entire mitigation and snow removal processes, she said. The region only has one DOT-certified avalanche specialist, and that person is also responsible for Seward Highway. If an avalanche or other event occurred on the Seward Highway, work on Hatcher Pass would pause.

“So that’s going to be another week to 10 days that he’s going to have to commit, if everything goes well, to just Hatcher Pass,” Reese said. “To be able to do that, he has to tie up things on the Seward Highway, and then let’s hope for clear skies and not another round of snowfall.”

Hatcher Pass Road has been closed since Feb. 14. Reese said future avalanches could cause more delays.

“We had six major avalanches come across the road,” she said. “The avalanches last year were also very large, and they happened in the springtime. So being that this was just the middle and end of February, we’ll have to see what comes our way.”

The road has been cleared up to mile post 11. That’s just past the Skeetawk Ski Area, which remains open.

While the state Department of Natural Resources on Monday rescinded the emergency closure of Hatcher Pass East Management Area, including the backcountry area around Independence Mine, the transportation department said: “there’s no access to utilize any of it until after our mitigation and road clearing.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this story said the region only has one state-certified avalanche specialist. It has been updated to specify that there is only one DOT-certified avalanche specialist.

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