Snow closes Independence Pass near Aspen, snarls Hwy. 82 |

Snow closes Independence Pass near Aspen, snarls Hwy. 82

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesThe first significant snowfall of the season in Aspen blankets the Hyman Avenue Mall on Tuesday night.

ASPEN ” Highway 82 over Independence Pass near Aspen was closed during Tuesday night’s winter storm, and icy conditions on the highway in Snowmass Canyon wreaked havoc with the Wednesday morning commute.

The pass was scheduled to close for the winter on Friday at 2 p.m., but the storm that moved into western Colorado late Tuesday forced the Colorado Department of Transportation to lock the gate east of Aspen, and on the Twin Lakes side, a few days early.

“Deputies had to rescue some stranded motorists last night,” said Jesse Steinder, Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy. “It is officially closed.”

Among the challenges on the pass, along with blowing and drifting snow, was an east-bound semi-truck trying to negotiate the narrow, winding road, though vehicles of more than 35 feet in length are not permitted on the pass. Another motorist reported the truck to authorities after spotting it near the ghost town of Independence, on the Aspen side of the summit, according to CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.

Deputies were busy again Wednesday morning, when upvalley commuters encountered fresh snow on Highway 82 in Snowmass Canyon. The snow was quickly compacted into a slick expanse that sent multiple vehicles sliding off the highway at various locations.

The upvalley lanes were shut down before 8 a.m. at the Snowmass Conoco and traffic was diverted onto Lower River Road. The highway reopened at about 8:30 a.m.

“At about 7 a.m., the roads were absolutely terrible,” Steinder said. “From about the Snowmass Conoco to the end of the canyon was just glare ice. Traffic was at a complete standstill.”

CDOT was summoned to apply more de-icer to the highway and deputies worked to get stuck vehicles back on the road; no serious accidents or injuries were reported, Steinder said.

“It could have been worse,” he said.

On Interstate 70, chain laws for commercial vehicles were in effect Wednesday morning in the eastbound lanes at Eisenhower Tunnel and in both directions on Vail Pass. Go to for up-to-date road conditions statewide.

On a brighter note, a foot of snow fell overnight on Sam’s Knob at Snowmass and at the top of Loge Peak at Aspen Highlands, according to Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co. Snowfall totals weren’t available for Aspen Mountain.

“It’s a Snobama day. How’s that for cheesy?” Hanle quipped.

The Skico fired up its snowguns for the first time this season at Snowmass and Aspen Mountain, and the forecast suggests crews will be able to make snow continuously for the next two days, Hanle said.

At Snowmass, the guns are concentrated on Fanny Hill and up. On Aspen Mountain, the snowmaking effort is focused on the World Cup course; Aspen is slated to host women’s giant slalom and slalom races on Nov. 29 and 30.

A winter storm warning remains in effort for the mountains surrounding Aspen, and much of western Colorado, until 3 a.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

The latest forecast calls for accumulations of 3 to 5 inches on Wednesday in Aspen, and another inch or so Wednesday night. Thursday’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies with a 20 percent chance of snow.

Roughly 4 inches of wet snow fell in downtown Aspen Tuesday night, judging from the coating on fences and cars Wednesday morning.

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