Independence Pass closes for season | AspenTimes.com

Independence Pass closes for season

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen becomes a dead-end town again at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

That’s when highway crews will lock the gates, closing off Highway 82 over the 12,095-foot pass east of Aspen for the winter. It won’t reopen until May, shortly before Memorial Day weekend, weather permitting.

Wednesday’s closure extends what has become something of a pattern for the pass ” lately, it remains open until its scheduled Nov. 7 closure every other year. Snowstorms have shut it down early in alternate years.

Colorado Department of Transportation crews will lock the gates at the base of the pass on both the Aspen and Twin Lakes sides at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Then, crews will meet at the summit ” the Continental Divide ” and head down both sides, shooing out anyone they find along the way.

Anyone who heads up shortly before 2 p.m. will be able to cross back down to either side, where someone will be stationed to unlock the gate and let them out, according to Dwayne Gaymon, senior foreman for the CDOT section that maintains the Aspen side of the pass.

“There will be somebody standing there until we sweep both sides and make sure it’s clear,” he said.

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Motorists who inadvertently gets caught behind locked gates can still get their vehicle out. On the Aspen side, travelers can call the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which has a key to unlock the gate.

Nov. 7 is the traditional closure date for the pass, even when a late-fall spate of good weather would allow it to remain open longer, as is the case this year.

“The later in the season it gets, if we get a snowstorm, it’s not just snowing up there, it’s snowing everywhere,” Gaymon explained. That stretches CDOT’s plowing resources.

Besides, he added, the winding route over the pass, with its steep drop-offs, can quickly become dangerous for both CDOT plow drivers and motorists who venture up and find themselves unprepared for the conditions.

“The seventh is it,” Gaymon said.

Last month, CDOT closed the pass temporarily when conditions deteriorated, then reopened the route when the weather cleared.

Last year, it closed for a brief spell during an unusual September snowstorm, and closed for good on Oct. 20. The pass was open until Nov. 7 in 2005, 2003 and 2001, while wintery weather forced early closures in 2004, 2002 and 2000.

Once the pass closes for the winter, there’s only one way in and out of Aspen by road ” Highway 82 to the northwest. It links up with Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs. When it is open, the pass is a scenic shortcut for travel between Aspen and points south, as well as to Denver and the Front Range.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com