Avalanche damages historic chalet in Glacier Park

A backcountry hotel hit by an avalanche in Montana's Glacier National Park sits unattended and partially filled with snow as officials wait for treacherous conditions to subside so they can reac...

A backcountry hotel hit by an avalanche in Montana's Glacier National Park sits unattended and partially filled with snow as officials wait for treacherous conditions to subside so they can reach the historic structure and begin repairs.

The slide likely hit the popular Sperry Chalet months ago, but the hotel is open only during the summer months so no one was around, officials said. Some skiers recently spotted the damage and notified park officials.

The risk of another slide is preventing a full damage assessment. But officials say the avalanche struck the southern end of the chalet's dormitory building, filling rooms with snow and damaging doors, windows, walls and fixtures. The kitchen and restroom buildings were not affected, officials said.

"It's impossible to get someone up there now because the possibility of an avalanche is too high," chalet coordinator Kevin Warrington told the Daily Inter Lake for a story published Tuesday.

A posting on the chalet's website said it may be "several weeks before anyone can safely visit" and begin repairs. Officials believe the historic rock building is structurally sound.

Park officials think the slide struck the chalet in mid-January at the same time a rainstorm caused several other large avalanches, park spokeswoman Ellen Blickhan said Tuesday.

Warrington said he expects the chalet to open July 8 as scheduled, but some of its 17 rooms may not open this season. Crews usually arrive at the building in late June for a week of cleaning before the chalet opens.

"Now, it's a whole lot of sitting around and waiting for the snow to melt," he said.

Warrington said rooms were fully booked by the end of January. When the damage is assessed, the staff will contact those with reservations whose plans may be affected. The chalet's summer season runs through Sept. 10.

Belton Chalet Inc., the concessionaire that manages Sperry Chalet, is required to keep insurance on the facility. Warrington couldn't comment on whether insurance will cover the damages.

"We're still talking to our insurance company," he said.

Sperry Chalet was built in 1913 by Great Northern Railway magnate James Hill and his son Louis and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The only changes in the last century have been a modernized kitchen and composting restroom building. Guests have to hike or ride horses at least 6.7 miles to the chalet, which overlooks Lake McDonald.

The chalet was struck by an avalanche once before in 1957.

"It's a two-a-century event," Warrington said.

___

Information from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com

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