NEWS UPDATE: Independence Pass gates being locked at 2 p.m. today | AspenTimes.com

NEWS UPDATE: Independence Pass gates being locked at 2 p.m. today

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A westbound motorist passes through the winter gate on the Pitkin County side of Independence Pass, a few miles east of Aspen, on Tuesday afternoon. The Colorado Department of Transportation planned to close the pass Friday at noon, but due to inclement weather the closure has been rescheduled to Wednesday afternoon.

Due to a winter storm that arrived a day early, Independence Pass closed to motorists yesterday at 2 p.m. — probably for the season.

Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Tracy Trulove said conditions along the pass appear to be dangerous to travelers. A weather front expected to start bringing snow to the Aspen area early Thursday arrived a day early, and was stronger than predicted, necessitating the plan to close the pass ahead of time.

"There's snowpack, ice and snow blowing in sideways," she said of conditions on Highway 82 east of Aspen. "We'll be parked at the gate at 1:30 p.m. and alerting people that we are about to lock the gate."

Trulove said the winter gates on each side, in both Pitkin and Lake counties, will be locked at 2 p.m. CDOT maintenance crews will sweep the roadway after the gates are locked to make sure that any remaining motorists are able to exit the pass.

A Pitkin County emergency alert to smartphone and email subscribers at 11:45 a.m. said the pass was closed. Trulove said the alert was slightly premature, but confirmed at noon that preparations were underway to close the pass.

She added that there is a slim chance of reopening the pass on Thursday if the weather turns clear. Given today's storm and the Thursday forecast that calls for more snow, a reopening is highly unlikely, Trulove said.

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AspenWeather.net forecaster Cory Gates previously had predicted a cloudy day on Thursday with periods of light snow. He forecasted 4 to 7 inches of snow at ski areas and a few inches in town by dawn Friday.

His forecast updated early today calls for periods of light snow today, tonight and daytime Thursday, with heavier amounts Thursday evening and overnight.

Aspen got a few inches of wet snow Monday along with the cold front that moved into the area. Most of the accumulated snow and ice on Highway 82 just west of the Pitkin County winter gate was melting away amid bright sunshine Tuesday afternoon.

"The high valleys like Aspen got some snow (Monday), which is cool, the resorts also did well for a fast-moving system, and downvalley also had some small accumulations. If we combine this fresh snow with colder temps and snowmaking, Aspen-Snowmass had a good day," Gates said.

The pass closure affects an 18-mile stretch of the highway, from about four miles east of Aspen to a point west of Twin Lakes. The summit of the pass is at 12,095 feet.

In 2013, the pass closed earlier than usual, on Oct. 31, after a snowstorm created drifts up to 4 feet high on the Aspen side.

Trulove said the decision to close the pass involves more than just weather forecasts. With the winter season moving in, the department's equipment used for maintenance of the pass has to be moved to other places in the state where it's needed.

CDOT aims to reopen the pass each spring before Memorial Day weekend, weather permitting.

andre@aspentimes.com