Independence Pass to open in time for Memorial Day

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenMay 25, 2011

Want to get away?

Well, it'll be that much easier to travel to and from Aspen on Thursday at 2 p.m. when the gates to Independence Pass swing open for motorists just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Clearing the west side of Independence Pass.

The Colorado Department of Transportation announced the forthcoming opening of the pass this afternoon, as the sun broke through the clouds and shined on the valley for the first time in days. It's been a long, cold, and snowy spring in these Rockies.

Instead of May flowers, state transportation plowers have been battling snow showers and record-deep drifts running up the 12,095-foot Independence Pass. Snow was piled as high as 25 feet on the sides of the road and as deep as 8 feet in the middle of Highway 82.

Even this morning, before the sun broke out, it was snowing atop the pass.

Transportation officials say they put in 14-hour days, seven days a week, to open the pass and even had to borrow a snowcat that is usually used for Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat Springs. The snowcat has 12 feet of track and a blade that can twist, turn and bend as opposed to the bulldozers crews usually employ on Independence Pass that only have 4 feet of track and can get high-centered.

Twin Lakes
Troy Hooper

Maintenance workers on each side of Independence Pass met in the middle Tuesday, then continued work on their respective sides clearing snow drifts and avalanche debris with the snowcat, bulldozers, loaders, blowers, plows and motor graders.

Rob Hunker, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said there are still areas of unstable snow and, with the return of sunshine, there is a good chance of some shallow, wet-bank slides. He noted that the snowpack on the east side of the pass is currently 452 percent of its average and on the west side it is 361 percent of its average.

“This has been a big winter up here and with the snowmelt, it’s not over,” D'Wayne Gaymon, the Glenwood Springs maintenance supervisor for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said. “With banks of up to 30 feet high, we’re going to have to keep at it, and motorists need to drive slowly and stay prepared for winter conditions.”

In the weeks ahead, crews will continue repairing guardrail, patching, striping and repairing signs and delineators as needed. Independence Pass is closed each winter, due to harsh weather conditions, for the safety of the traveling public. It provides a scenic drive from Aspen over to Twin Lakes in Lake County where motorists can access U.S. 285 en route to Leadville and Denver to the north and Buena Vista, Colo., Salida, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M., to the south.

It looks a little different up there, doesn't it? This is a recent photo of the top of Independence Pass.

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Snow Report

  24hr snow mid dpth snow cond.
A-Basin n/a n/a
Aspen n/a n/a closed
BC n/a n/a closed
Breckenridge n/a n/a closed
Buttermilk n/a n/a closed
Copper n/a n/a closed
Crest. Butte n/a n/a closed
Eldora n/a n/a closed
Heavenly n/a n/a closed
Highlands n/a n/a
Howelsen n/a n/a closed
Keystone n/a n/a closed
Kirkwood n/a n/a closed
Loveland n/a n/a
Monarch n/a n/a closed
Northstar n/a n/a closed
Powderhorn n/a n/a closed
Purgatory n/a n/a closed
Silverton n/a n/a closed
Ski Cooper n/a n/a closed
Ski Granby n/a n/a closed
Snowmass n/a n/a closed
Steamboat n/a n/a closed
Sunlight n/a n/a closed
Telluride n/a n/a closed
Vail n/a n/a closed
WinterPark n/a n/a closed
Wolf Creek n/a n/a closed
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