Deep, frozen debris hinders road clearing
Pitkin County road crews gave up trying to fully clear Castle Creek Road on Tuesday after encountering avalanche debris that would barely budge, an official said.
“It’s frozen cement,” said Scott Mattice, the county’s road and bridge manager. “We just weren’t making any progress.”
The crews have spent the past week making their way to the Pine Creek Cookhouse, located near the end of Castle Creek Road, he said. The pavement ends about a half-mile above the Cookhouse, where the road to Pearl Pass begins. The first 500 feet of debris above the Cookhouse went fairly quickly, Mattice said, but the next 300 feet took two days and eventually stopped the crews in their tracks. The last 500 feet of debris before the road turns to dirt is 6-feet deep and chock full of 8-inch to 18-inch diameter pine and spruce trees, ice and snow, he said. The slide is the largest to impact Castle Creek Road this winter, Mattice said.
“We bailed out for now,” he said. “We’ll wait for the sunshine and rain in the next two weeks, then we’ll go back.”
In the meantime, crews shifted their attention to Maroon Creek Road.
“We just started up Maroon Creek Road today,” Mattice said.
A U.S. Forest Service official said last week that the Maroon Bells Scenic Area — one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colorado — won’t open May 15 as scheduled because of tons of avalanche debris covering Maroon Creek Road. The Forest Service hopes to have the road open by June 15, the official said.
Pitkin County crews Tuesday made it to within about two miles of the end of the road at the amphitheater, Mattice said. However, those last two miles are the hard part.
A massive slide that occurred just past upper Stein Meadow, where about 500 feet of road is covered by debris 20-feet deep, must next be cleared from Maroon Creek Road, Mattice said.
“That one’s full of mainly aspen,” he said, noting that aspen trees tend to bend more than pine trees and can snap back with force when being cleared. One aspen tree recently snapped back and tagged the county’s front-end loader pretty hard during clearing operations, he said.
“To have that much material,” Mattice said. “It’s going to be at least two weeks (to clear it) if it’s really easy digging.”
The Maroon Creek debris could easily be frozen solid as well, however, requiring crews to wait until it softens up, he said.
And that may not be the last Maroon Creek avalanche debris field to clear.
Rumor is that another slide may have occurred near the overflow parking lot at the Maroon Bells, Mattice said.
“There could be another slide in that area,” he said. “But I don’t think anybody’s been up that far yet.”
Adding to the debris was another four inches of snow that fell Monday and Tuesday in the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek valleys, Mattice said. The avalanche clearing operation also could be delayed because county road and bridge crews may be called away to deal with emergencies, he said.
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Aspen Skiing Co. didn’t let the shortened ski season in 2019-20 slow it down this summer. The company is replacing the Big Burn Chairlift at Snowmass and adding snowmaking at Snowmass and Aspen Mountain.