STEVENS PASS – With ski season in full swing, skiers and snowboarders are racing up the highway to hit the hill.
Unfortunately, many of them are leaving their driving etiquette at home, said trooper Keith Leary of the Washington State Patrol. Some are going 20 or 30 mph over the speed limit, making unsafe passes and causing wrecks that tangle traffic on U.S. 2.
“They’re disregarding all traffic laws to get up to the ski slopes,” Leary said.
Between Nov. 22 and Dec. 1, nearly two dozen collisions were reported on the highway between Baring and the top of the mountain. Almost a third involved injuries. A couple also involved alcohol or drugs.
Last year’s light snowpack made for an abbreviated ski season. However, this year’s crash rate is on track within a few weeks’ time to surpass all of last winter’s crashes on the same stretch of the highway, Leary said.
In addition, complaints about aggressive drivers have poured in from all over east county.
In response, the patrol is sending out extra troopers in unmarked cars to target trouble areas along the highway. Leary encourages people to report drivers who are breaking the rules. With a little information, troopers can catch the drivers farther up or down the hill.
Drivers also can expect stricter enforcement of chain-up laws.
“We’ve seen too many tragic collisions in the past to have people continue driving this way,” Leary said.
Fred Walser has arrested and ticketed an awful lot of drivers on U.S. 2, especially during ski season, he said. He spent decades with the State Patrol before working as the Sultan police chief. He is now chairman of the U.S. 2 Safety Coalition.
Living in Monroe, he sees consistent problems at the beginning of the season when drivers are excited to get to the slopes. He used to ticket people going 80, 90, even 100 miles an hour in Baring all the time.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re seeing all kinds of crazy driving now,” he said.
Too often, people crash because they’re too drowsy to drive, he said. After a long day of skiing in the cold, the warmth of the car lulls them to sleep.