Hatcher Pass Road reopened Tuesday, more than two months after a series of large avalanches in February blocked access to the Talkeetna Mountains near Palmer.
The closure marked the longest the road has been closed in decades. The avalanches hit in the midst of the winter skiing and snowmachining season, cutting off road access to popular recreation areas as well as Hatcher Pass Lodge.
Work clearing the road was delayed by a staffing shortage within the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, according to Jill Reese, a spokeswoman for the department. Work didn’t resume until last week.
Four large avalanches buried the road during a mid-February storm. Several of the avalanches crossed the upper and lower portion of the road and several smaller avalanches also occurred in the area at that time.
The snow was even deeper than initially believed, with more than 30 feet covering some portions of the road, Reese said.
Hatcher Pass Road had initially closed at Mile 11, just after the Skeetawk ski area, but crews cleared the road up to Mile 14, near the Gold Mint Trailhead, in the weeks after the storm. Snow removal then paused because there is currently only one certified avalanche specialist at the transportation department for the Southcentral region.
A specialist must be on scene for safety reasons whenever debris removal is occurring, Reese said. Avalanche concerns in other areas of the region, like the Seward Highway, took priority over Hatcher Pass Road.
The specialist surveyed the area on April 18 and deemed it safe for clearing, she said. Crews worked through the week, and on Tuesday morning, the road reopened again to the Independence Mine State Historical Park’s lower parking lot, which also offers lodge access.
The road closure cut off several popular areas for backcountry recreating, including Archangel Road, a popular place for cross-country skiers with rolling hills and mountain views.
“I understand skies are sunny up there,” Reese said. “So it’s a beautiful day to be in Hatcher Pass.”