Ah, the open road: The lone highway into Valdez, Alaska, is finally clear, but residents say being cut off by land wasn’t that big of a deal.
Six miles of the Richardson Highway in and out of the town of 4,000 people were shut down for about 11 days because of multiple avalanches that dropped snow 50 feet high onto the lanes. Truck shipments and other travel were shifted to ships and airplanes.
“Alaska is resilient,” said Valdez resident Colleen Stephens. Although it reduced the town’s independence, she said, “Did it really alter how we live our daily lives? Not really.”
Daily mail service continued, although some deliveries took longer. Extra ferries transported cars and drivers, and fuel tanks stayed full.
For the first two days, 52 miles of highway were closed in the area known as Snow Slide Path. Avalanches also dammed the Lowe River, giving the situation the name “Damalanche,” and creating a large lake on the road.
Road maintenance crews couldn’t clear the snow until the water drained. Work began over the weekend to clear nearly 200,000 cubic yards of snow, the Alaska Department of Transportation said. It was finished Wednesday.
In a town that averages more than 300 inches of snow a year, a closed highway was nothing special, residents said. But the scale of the blockage was breathtaking.
Maggie Nylund of Magpies Bakery in Valdez said her family planned to drive through the cleared stretch Saturday morning to see the snow stacked in the river, towering a story or two above the roadway.
“We’ll go check it out, so we don’t miss out on this historic happening,” she said.
[For the record, 12:30 p.m. PST Feb. 6: An earlier version of this post misstated the average snowfall in Valdez as 300 feet.]