Independence Pass ready for plows |

Independence Pass ready for plows

Chad Abraham
A few small patches of snow remain just beyond the gate of Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

State road crews Monday will tackle 8-foot snow drifts and giant boulders on Independence Pass – mammoth remnants from the heavy winter – as they prepare Highway 82 for its Memorial Day weekend opening.Helicopters will drop explosives to trigger avalanches on certain stretches, said Les Stanton, junior foreman in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Glenwood Springs office. Huge, vehicle-mounted blowers and a front-end loader will follow up to clear the roadway.

“The blowers do the majority of the work,” he said.The winter left the snowpack on the Aspen side of the pass near normal levels. But the Leadville side has a snowpack 120 percent of normal, Stanton said.The snow levels on the 12,095-foot pass – the highest paved state highway over the Continental Divide in Colorado – probably won’t hinder road crews too much, he said.

“We should be in pretty good shape up to around Lincoln Creek,” Stanton said. “And it depends on what kind of weather we get while we’re up there, too. A lot of times we have to plow our way back in to where we left off the day before. That slows us down a little.”The last switchback up to the top of Independence Pass is buried in snowdrifts reaching up to 8 feet high. And boulders on the road are another obstacle.”We do have a little rock problem. We had a slab that slid on us right there on the narrows,” Stanton said. That stretch of road on the Aspen side is barely wide enough for two vehicles.

Crews on snowmobiles have also used explosives for avalanche control during preliminary trips up the pass.Finally, two bulldozers will travel up from Twin Lakes just before Memorial Day to help give the dormant pass back to Aspenites.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is

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