Will Independence Pass open on schedule?
May 20, 2011
ASPEN – Colorado Department of Transportation crews are pushing through snow that is 25 feet deep in places to get Highway 82 over Independence Pass near Aspen open on schedule. But the agency is making no promises.The pass is supposed to open May 26.”It’s really just too soon to tell, but we’re moving in the right direction,” said Marc Quintana, CDOT maintenance patrol supervisor, in a press release.Light snow fell in Aspen Wednesday night and Thursday, but the snowfall was likely heavier at higher elevations. A winter storm warning remains in effect for the mountains surrounding Aspen until Friday evening, according to the National Weather Service. The weather service was predicting total snowfall of 8 to 15 inches, though nothing approaching those amounts had fallen in town by late Thursday afternoon.CDOT’s goal is to open the pass gates at 2 p.m. on May 26, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, as is customary. Crews are working on both sides of the summit to clear snow, and conducted a successful avalanche control mission on the east side of the pass Monday, said the CDOT press release.Crews continue to move snow from snowdrifts, and avalanche debris, that is piled as high as 25 feet in some areas, and have progressed to within a few miles of the summit (about a mile from the summit on the west side and three miles from it on the east), the agency said. Between the patrols working on each side, crews are operating at least two bulldozers, five loaders with blowers, four loaders with plows, two motor graders and a snow cat.According Rob Hunker, CDOT’s avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the chance of small avalanches in this area is not likely to pose a hazard to the highway (though crews always wear beacons and use a spotter). Hunker also said the heaviest snowfall is expected to arrive Saturday, with showers and modest accumulations.According to CDOT, avalanche center data shows that the snowpack depth of 37 inches on the east side of the pass is at 307 percent of average; and the 45-inch snowpack on the west side is at 221 percent of average,. Aspen is on the west side of the pass.Once the business of clearing snow and ice is complete, road crews still need to finish clearing ditches, sweeping, repairing potholes and sections of guardrail, striping the pavement and more. The 12,095-foot pass closes each fall and reopens in the spring.The pass will be ready to go for Saturday’s Ride for the Pass, a bicycling event on the Aspen side, event organizers confirmed earlier this week. Riders climb from the gate to the ghost town of Independence, a distance of 10 miles, but not to the pass summit. The ride is a fundraiser for the Independence Pass Foundation.