Klondike Highway still shut by avalanche danger

The Klondike Highway remained closed Thursday between Skagway and Whitehorse after severe weather prevented Canadian helicopter crews from blasting avalanches along the route.

“I’m being told it’s not the greatest conditions out there,” said Mickey Parkin, superintendent of the Yukon Highway Department, on Wednesday.

The highway has been repeatedly closed this week at night because of the threat of an avalanche, Parkin said. That’s normal procedure.

“It’s kind of our practice at night. If we have a rating that high, we like to close the highway,” he said.

During the day, a Canadian helicopter contractor out of Whitehorse performs blasting to reduce the avalanche danger. On Thursday, with a storm moving through northern Southeast Alaska, the flight couldn’t take place.

According to the National Weather Service in Juneau, the snow level in the White Pass area was at 800 feet, with driving rain below that mark and heavy, wet snow above it on Thursday morning. At the Canadian border and beyond, temperatures were below freezing.

“The type of weather we’re seeing is creating blowing snow,” explained Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation.

If the storm continues as expected today, the highway may stay closed for a second day, something that could impact Juneau travelers.

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry LeConte is expected to reach Skagway today, and if the highway remains closed, any northbound travelers will be stranded in Skagway until travel is permitted.

The Haines highway remained open on Thursday, but travel was reported to be extremely treacherous, with blowing snow, black ice and temperatures hovering around the freezing point.

At Skagway, Woodrow said the decision to close the Klondike Highway was a joint choice by Canadian and Alaska highway officials.

“They’re working through the holiday, so they’ll re-evaluate (Friday),” he said.

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