Crews at Work Clearing Mt. Washington Auto Road

By Terry Leavitt
The Conway Daily Sun

April 24, 2014

Meg Skidmore, of the Mount Washington Auto Road, reports that the crew is on track for an opening in the third week in May. She added, however, that the date is tentative and dependent on the weather. "We are on track with clearing, but that can change," she said. "We've had lots of snow in May in some years."

The spring ritual of clearing the auto road dates back more than 150 years. When the work was done by hand, the road was opened on July 4.

On the mountain, where snow can linger long after it has become a memory in the valley below, crews using a groomer, backhoe and a highway maintenance truck start work in April and spend six to eight weeks clearing snow and ice from the roadway and doing any necessary repairs to open it as a summer attraction. The groomer pushes most of the snow off the road, leaving a thin layer of snow for the equipment to work on. The truck is used for clearing debris.

The spring clearing process includes opening more than 100 culverts that provide the drainage necessary to keep the road from being eroded by snow melt and rainwater. The culverts fill with water and freeze solid during the winter, and the crews must find and carefully uncover them with the backhoe before using a specially made steam drill to drill out the ice. Water is initially brought from the base to start the steam drilling process, but once it is started the water is recycled to continue the production of steam.

Skidmore reported that the snow is currently at its deepest, 20 feet, at Cragway Drift, a pocket between five and six miles up the auto road that collects wind-blown snow. In the summer this point is simply known as Cragway Turn.


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