It has been a longstanding tradition that motorists are free to travel Chinook Pass by the Memorial Day weekend, but best intentions sometimes doesn’t exactly align with reality.
The past two seasons, for example, Department of Transportation crews were unable to get both Chinook and Cayuse passes cleared of snow, delaying the openings of state Route 410 and 123. A year ago, the delay was largely due to road construction; two years ago, a late-winter snow storm caught crews by surprise.
Last year’s opening of both passes finally arrived June 11, following a June 9 Chinook opening a year earlier. Before that, the passes had been open five years in a row for Memorial Day travelers.
This year brought a return to normalcy, with the DOT opening both highways at 8 a.m. Thursday, May 23.
When the gates opened, drivers were able to travel SR 410/Chinook Pass (elevation 5,430 feet) between Crystal Mountain Boulevard, about 12 miles northwest of the summit, and Morse Creek, five miles east of the summit. Opening at the same time was SR 123/Cayuse Pass (elevation 4,675 feet) within the park boundaries between Stevens Canyon Road and the SR 410 junction.
Both Cayuse and Chinook passes close each winter due to high avalanche risk, poor road conditions, lack of snow storage and no emergency response services within close proximity. This season, both highways closed to vehicle traffic on Nov. 20, 2018.