Glacier warns of avalanche danger along Sun Road

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Glide cracks open in the snow on Heavens Peak in Glacier National Park in this May 10 photo from the Flathead Avalanche Center.

Glacier National Park officials are warning vistors to take precautions when traveling in bear and avalanche country along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Hikers and bikers need to be particularly attuned to avalanche-related hazards, the park warned in a media release.

This spring, the park has received multiple reports about close encounters with avalanches along the Sun Road and in the backcountry. Plow crews and visitors have encountered multiple avalanches crossing areas already plowed in the last two weeks, particularly in the Triple Arches area.

Avalanches that begin out of sight near the tops of the highest peaks can impact the road thousands of vertical feet below without warning. Snow avalanches on the Sun Road corridor are capable of reaching the road and depositing debris piles more than 30 feet deep.

Spring avalanches can occur during and after snow storms, during and after rain, and on sunny days as snow softens. Visitors should watch out for “snowballs” falling on the road from above, which can be an early warning of an avalanche. Hearing avalanche activity in the distance also means avalanche danger in the area is high.

Hikers and bikers also should learn to spot avalanche chutes and pay close attention as they walk or cycle past these areas. Avalanche chutes can often be identified by a lack of trees, many downed trees, or vegetation growing in a downward direction. Never stop for a drink of water or a photo near an avalanche chute.

People can minimize avalanche-related risks by riding portions of the Sun Road below significant avalanche terrain. Though a few slide areas exist below the Loop, most exist beyond that point in the alpine section of the road.

Bears present another potential hazard for hikers and bikers. Currently, most of the Sun Road is posted with warnings of “bear frequenting” as bears forage along road shoulders. The park says everyone should carry bear spray while recreating in the park, and be familiar with how to use it under pressure.

While visitors should be vigilant for avalanches and bears, Glacier National Park reminds bikers not to overlook a few simple, everyday guidelines for safe cycling in the park.

“We talk a lot about some of the extreme hazards along the Going-to-the-Sun Road,” said Superintendent Jeff Mow. “However, one of the best and easiest things people can do to lower their overall risk is wear a helmet, reduce speed, and watch for rocks.”

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