Independence Pass near Aspen to stay open a bit longer

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen, hasn’t closed on schedule since 2007.

Oddly, it appears it won’t make its targeted closure date this year, either, but not because wintry weather will shut it down early. Rather, the Colorado Department of Transportation intends to keep Highway 82 over the 12,095-foot pass open at least until Friday, according to agency spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. Snow in Aspen’s forecast on Friday, however, could bring a quick end to the extended season.

CDOT has long made it a policy to lock the gates on either side of the pass – outside of both Aspen and Twin Lakes – on Nov. 7 at 2 p.m., even if mild weather would allow it to stay open a little longer.

Usually, snow forces an early closure. The last time a spate of temperate fall weather allowed CDOT to keep the gates unlocked right up until Nov. 7 was in 2007.

In many years, the fall closure comes before Aspenites have a chance to turn the calendar page from October to November, though last fall, CDOT closed the pass Nov. 1 in advance of an approaching winter storm. It did not reopen.

In 2010, the agency closed the pass for the season Oct. 25 as a winter storm intensified, according to Aspen Times files. In 2009, it was shut down Oct. 27 in advance of an approaching storm and remained closed. In 2008, the pass was closed quickly on Nov. 4 during a snowstorm that forced sheriff’s deputies to rescue stranded motorists in the dark.

In 2007, travelers enjoyed access to the pass right up until the scheduled closure.

For the record, the pass was closed for a brief spell in 2006 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 wintry weather forced early closures in 2004, 2002 and 2000.

Once the pass is closed, there’s just one road into and out of Aspen – Highway 82 coming upvalley from Glenwood Springs.

The reopening of the pass in the spring, incidentally, generally is less prone to weather-driven variables. CDOT aims to open the gates the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, but this year’s opening, on May 11, was among the earliest in recent memory. A rapidly disappearing snowpack allowed highway crews to get the road cleared and repaired far earlier than usual.

Momentous snowfall in the winter of 2007-08, on the other hand, kept plow crews busy until early June. The route didn’t reopen for the summer until June 5.