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By Andi Bourne

Improving Traffic Safety During Snow Joke


SEELEY LAKE – Organizers for the Snow Joke Half Marathon are implementing improved safety precautions and closing one lane of Highway 83 during the Feb. 25 event to better manage the traffic on race day. With 893 finishers last year and even larger crowds expected in years to come, race organizer Matt Gibson said safety is paramount.

Gibson said the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) received a citizen complaint about the traffic management for the event. MDT informed Big Sky Orogenic Racing and Events’ (BSORE), the race organizers since 2014, that as part of their special use permit, which is required for any event using the right-of-way, they wanted to put restrictions on the way the race was run.

According to a MDT representative, the special use permit is required to protect those attending the event and the travelling public. They could not confirm that there was a complaint. However, he said that because the event continues to grow and there is more traffic during the event, MDT felt it was necessary to add restrictions.

“Initially the restrictions were such that they would have fundamentally changed the event. Essentially it would have made it impossible to run the Snow Joke on its traditional route,” said Gibson.

According to Gibson, MDT told them that if there was snow on Highway 83 they would not be able to run on the highway due to liability and safety.

“We said the chances of there being snow on the highway are very high and so that was alarming to us,” said Gibson.

BSORE suggested the lane closure and the pilot car as an alternative to keeping the race on its traditional route. The route has been certified by U.S.A. Track & Field as the official state championship 13.1 mile half marathon of Montana. MDT told Gibson that that was an encouraging suggestion to mitigate their concerns.

BSORE asked Poteet Construction, a traffic control contractor in Missoula, to draft a traffic control plan that was submitted to MDT. This included the lane closure and pilot car which MDT approved.

Gibson estimates the southbound lane of Highway 83 will be closed until around 12:45 p.m. A pilot car will lead motorists along a five-mile segment of the road. Gibson said race organizers are going to be “really aggressive trying to discipline the runners to confine themselves to that southbound lane and maintain a sense of where they are and the safety concern. Runners who drift out in the middle of the road will potentially face disqualification.”

At the start of the race, flagmen will stop southbound traffic at the north end of Boy Scout Road and northbound at Locust Lane. Once racers are through downtown Seeley Lake, the pilot cars will stop northbound traffic at Morrell Creek Road.

There will be a Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue flagger stationed at the junction of Highway 83 and the southern intersection of Boy Scout Road to allow runners to cross Highway 83 at the end of the race. This has been done for the past several years.

Gibson said drivers should expect delays of up to 20 minutes while the race is in progress. To minimize the inconvenience, spectators are discouraged from following the race in their cars. Instead of pursuing the runners north along the highway, Gibson recommends supporters and fans drive the course in reverse along Boy Scout Road and wait for the 1,000-strong field once they turn off the highway. There are two large pull-offs near the first aid station on the north end of Boy Scout roads.

BSORE was not expecting this new requirement that added $3,000 to run the race. They are looking to off-set the cost either through additional sponsorships or may need to consider a race fee increase for next year.

“The safety of the runners is our highest priority. It is a welcome change,” Gibson said. “The new traffic management plan will limit the chaos and make the race a lot more fun. We hope to minimize the inconvenience while delivering a great experience and a cool event for the Seeley Lake community.”

This year race organizers have put up an $800 purse for the fastest runners. The first man and woman overall finishers will receive $250; second will receive $100 for second place; and the third place finishers will walk away with $50 cash.

Besides the new purse and improved safety measures, Gibson promises this year’s Snow Joke will also feature “an even dumber award ceremony.” For decades, Snow Joke founder Pat Caffrey dressed up in a homemade cheetah costume and administered the “Cheetah Rangers Oath” to the winners. No more.

“The Cheetah Herders are enjoying their retirement,” Gibson said. “So we’ve tried to come up with our own award presentation. We hope that it makes the ridiculous spectacle of the past look dignified by comparison.” The awards ceremony will be held near the finish in the early afternoon.

Gibson continued, “We are looking forward to a great event.”


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