The Beartooth Highway is on track to open Memorial Day weekend, following months of work by road crews in Montana and Wyoming.
Specifically, the Beartooth is slated to open Friday, May 25, 2018.
The Beartooth Highway connects Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance to Red Lodge and Billings, MT.
According to the Billings Gazette, the work has gone “smoothly.” Steve Reed, field maintenance supervisor for the Montana Department of Transportation’s Big Timber section, said at a press conference the work has been hard but the snow hasn’t been record-breaking. From the Gazette:
The MDT crew began punching through the final snowdrift before the state line Thursday — less than a half-mile from Wyoming — and expects to finish plowing by Monday or Tuesday. After that, they still have to finish repairing guard rails along the switchback portion of the road damaged by avalanches during the winter, and replacing others that were removed last fall.
South of the border, the park’s plows had advanced as far as Long Lake, about 11 miles away from the state line, according to an update provided Thursday by park spokesman Jacob Frank.
Reed, who until last year had been the head of MDT’s Red Lodge Section, is a 19-year veteran of the annual plowing operations. He said the weather has largely cooperated this year, with few major snowstorms after their mid-April start, and, surprisingly, no avalanches requiring them to re-plow portions of the road below the Beartooth Plateau.
As part of operations, crews install poles along the edge of the road to guide crews along the snow-buried roads. In some cases, snow piles as high as 30 feet.
“This year the snow poles held up pretty well, but I can remember years up here when it was a whiteout and it becomes a ‘feel’ thing,” Reed told the Gazette.
According to the Gazette, crews work in shifts to polish snow off the road. The first crews use a snowcat to “pioneer” the roads, shaving off fluff until bladers can get in and cut through the dense, compact snow layer closer to the road. When the bladers finish, snowblowers come through and push all that loose snow off the road.
Since the Beartooth is an alpine road, often hugging the mountainside, crews have to be extra cautions when maneuvering equipment. According to MDT’s Red Lodge section supervisor Duane Reisig, making sure a machine’s wheels/tracks are level and on balance is the difference between a day’s work and a plunge over the side.
The Beartooth isn’t the only road around Yellowstone that requires such care and attention in the winter. Spring plowing is a herculean effort, with crews out March through May clearing roads in time for the summer season. There’s also a lot of “behind the scenes” work. A few weeks ago, we reported on some of the effort that goes into maintaining Yellowstone’s heavy equipment fleet.