Will Independence Pass open for Memorial Day?

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN”State highway officials were unsure Friday whether Independence Pass would be opened by the traditional Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26.

But it appears that the possible delay of the pass opening will not affect plans for the May 17 Ride For The Pass, a fundraising event for the Independence Pass Foundation.

“It’ll be fine, as far as I know,” said Les Stanton, supervisor for the highway crews in the Roaring Fork Valley region. Speaking from the road as he heads out on vacation, he said his crew was expected to get to the ghost town of Independence no later than May 9.

But, on the other side of the pass, according to Nancy Shanks, public information officer for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), a Thursday spring snowstorm forced a delay in plans to do avalanche control work that day along Highway 82 above Twin Lakes.

Highway crews have been working diligently on both sides of the pass in their annual race to reach the top. But work on the east side is dependent on efforts to bring down dangerous cornices that overhang the steep slopes above the road.

That avalanche control work ” which involves the use of a leased helicopter based in Aurora and a crew of experienced avalanche bombers out of Grand Junction ” has been rescheduled for May 14, said Rob Hunker, CDOT’s avalanche control expert for the region that includes the east side of Independence Pass.

“Typically, the snow has warmed by this time of year, and were able to bring it down and clear it from the roadway,” said CDOT Maintenance Supervisor Jim Pitkin, who oversees crews on the east side. “Since the snow is still cold and firm right now, there’s a potential that a rapid warming trend will bring snow down that we’re not able to bring down with our avalanche control work.”

A press release from CDOT on May 6 gave the snow depth on Independence Pass as 172 percent above average, although Hunker said that by May 8 the snowpack was at 155 percent of normal, thanks to a short-lived clearing and warming trend.

“Prior to yesterday,” Hunker said on Friday, “we’ve had three days when we started to see it melt.”

Still, Hunker said, the May 8 snowstorm had added to the depth somewhat, although accurate snow depth numbers were not available by noon on Friday, May 9.

The press release from CDOT announced that “the reopening date will be confirmed … during the week of May 19.”

And, the statement continued, “Those anxious to travel these seasonal passes/roads should be advised that if they reopen on the 22nd, any subsequent spring snowstorms or snow “slides” due to snow melt could temporarily close the pass again, or at the very least, slow traffic at times.”