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  • Writer's pictureMichael Graw

Why Isn’t Marble Mountain Sno-Park Plowed? May 2023 Update

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

Summary:

  • Plowing to Marble Mountain Sno-Park, which offers access to Mount St. Helens, was inconsistent during the 2022-23 season and then stopped altogether.

  • This was because the plowing contractor for that Sno-Park went out of business.

  • The Sno-Parks program is accepting bids for a new plowing contract and expects to restore normal levels of plowing next winter.

Snowshoer walking through a snowy forest at Mt. St. Helens
Photo credit: US Forest Service

Marble Mountain Sno-Park is the starting point for most skiers and climbers heading up Mount St. Helens throughout the winter and spring.


Normally, this Sno-Park provides terrific access to one of Washington’s best-known volcanoes during a part of the year when there are few other accessible high-elevation trailheads. However, during this winter and spring, plowing of Forest Road 83, which leads up to Marble Mountain Sno-Park, frequently failed to happen and then stopped altogether.


There were a few unexpected setbacks that caused the problems with plowing this year. We spoke with Jason Goldstein, Winter Recreation Operations Manager for Washington State Parks, to better understand what’s happening and what we can expect for next year.


Why Did Plowing Stop?

The main reason why plowing to Marble Mountain Sno-Park suffered this year is that Sno-Parks’ plowing contractor for FS83 went out of business.


The Sno-Parks program relies on independent contractors to plow the roads to most of its winter trailheads. In this instance, the contractor that Sno-Parks hired to plow FS83 (which also leads to the Cougar Sno-Park) went out of business and failed to notify Sno-Parks staff.


Several weeks went by before Sno-Parks was aware that plowing wasn’t happening and could take action to find a new contractor. The Sno-Parks program was able to get another contractor to take over plowing on a short-term basis, but that contractor wasn’t able to keep up with the work.


In addition, the new, short-term plowing contract was negotiated at a much higher rate than the old, long-term contract. As a result, Sno-Parks overran its budget for plowing FS83 before the end of the season. This is why plowing stopped altogether starting in early April.


To make matters worse, the Cascades received unusually heavy April snow this year. Without plowing, FS83 became all but impassable during the most popular time of the year for skiing and climbing on Mount St. Helens.


Will Access Be Restored Next Year?

Jason Goldstein told us that he expects plowing service to Marble Mountain Sno-Park to be restored next season to the same level that it’s been in the past.


The Sno-Parks program is planning to request bids for a new long-term contract for plowing FS83 over the next few months. That process should result in a five-year contract for plowing the road all the way to Marble Mountain Sno-Park.


Sno-Parks will be able to budget for the new contract at the start of the season, and the new contractor can plan their work so that the budget lasts the whole season. (This is how most Sno-Park contractors operate.)


So, it’s likely that the plowing inconsistency at Marble Mountain Sno-Park this year is a one-time issue, not an ongoing limitation for winter access.


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