Crews plowing to clear Independence Pass |

Crews plowing to clear Independence Pass

ASPEN, Colorado ” Snowplow crews clearing the highway over Independence Pass say the snow is the deepest they’ve seen it more than two decades.

They’ve encountered drifts at least 7 feet deep so far and expect to plow through 20-foot-deep snow by the time they reach the summit, nearly 12,100 feet above sea level.

“I haven’t seen it like this in 25 years,” said Mike Bowker, heavy equipment manager for one of the crews.

Colorado 82 winds over Independence Pass, connecting Aspen and Leadville. One crew is working from the west and another from the east.

They began work a week ago and expect to have the entire route open by Memorial Day, but it has been slow going and the state Department of Transportation crews are putting in some 12-hour days.

On Thursday, the west side crew had to plow fresh snow off a stretch of highway they had already cleared just to get to the place they had left off.

“This kind of weather will slow us down some,” said Les Stanton, foreman of the west side crew. “But we’ll make it to the top in time.”

The plow operators get help from helicopter crews that watch for potential avalanches and drop explosives to trigger slides before the machines get into danger areas.

So far, avalanches have been rare along the highway, said Rob Hunker, CDOT avalanche forecaster for the Western Slope.

“The snowpack is still quite strong there right now,” he said. “Normally by this time we have begun seeing wet avalanches up there, but not yet this year.”

The biggest concern is a massive snow cornice hanging over the roadway on the east side of the pass. The helicopter crew plans to blast it down well before the ground crews get there.

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