Above-average snowpack across the West delays pass openings

Avalanche debris piled high at the end of March near Silverton Mountain, Colo. [Photo] Courtesy Denver Post and RJ Sangosti

For some, summer is a time for bike rides and float trips, but for others, there are still turns to be found. This year’s unusually high snowpack—California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains hitting 120 percent of the mid-June snowpack average—means many mountain passes are opening up late this season. But June’s end brings more pass openings, making warm weather ski missions easier. Here’s a list of mountain passes throughout the West that can help get you closer to your summer skiing adventures, whether you’re a diehard who chases turns no matter the season or someone who simply likes the novelty of skiing in a T-shirt.


Sonora Pass, Ebbetts Pass, Monitor Pass, and the June Lake Loop in California’s north-central Sierra Nevada Mountains have all been open since April and May. The Lassen Loop in Lassen Volcanic National park opened on June 22, and Mariposa Grove and Glacier Point Road are open in Yosemite. The park’s Tioga Road has had limited access since the opening on June 19 and is only available to those interested in crossing the Sierra at 10:00 a.m. or 3:00 pm. Currently day use recreation and visitor parking lots remain closed, and according to the National Park Service, these opening dates haven’t yet been determined.


The Denver Post reported that as of June 3, Colorado’s snowpack hit 539 percent of the state’s seasonal average. Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road is open, along with western Colorado’s Douglas Pass and the Mount Evans Scenic Byway in Colorado’s Front Range. On the Western Slope, the Crested Butte News reported that Kebler Pass opened on June 13 after the longest delay since 1995. In the centrally located Sawatch Range, Independence Pass is open, but Cottonwood Pass that links Buena Vista to Taylor Park is still closed for the season due to ongoing construction, which has been slowed down by “substantial” snow and a cornice at the top, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. They report that the road will open on August 12 even if construction isn’t done. Pearl Pass, a four-wheel-drive road between Aspen and Crested Butte, is also closed due to an excessive amount of avalanche debris that will take all summer to clear.

Montana and Wyoming

Beartooth Pass, which leads to Yellowstone’s northwest entrance, opened on June 25. The road crosses the Montana/Wyoming border in the western Absaroka Range. In northern Montana, Going-To-The-Sun Road opened on June 23, allowing visitors to cross the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park.

Oregon and Washington

Most passes in the Pacific Northwest opened at seasonally typical dates due to the region’s below-average snowpack. Oregon’s McKenzie Pass—a 38-mile designated scenic bikeway, popular for its stunning views and challenging ascents––opened on June 17. In Washington, Manastash Ridge, Mt. Baker Highway and Disautel Pass are open, as well as Cayuse and Chinook. All opened on May 23.

Despite the Northwest’s below-average snowpack, there’s still an abundance of snow throughout other western states. This year’s combination of above-average snowpack in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada and the openings of mountain passes bodes well for many summer skintrack days. Before heading out for a warm weather skin, however, be sure to confirm road conditions before setting objectives for the day. For more information, check out www.transportation.gov

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