Motorists encouraged to prepare vehicles for winter driving, review safety tips, check roadway conditions for holiday travel

November 24, 2010 - HOLIDAY SNOW - Southwestern Colorado/CDOT Region 5 - ROAD CONDITION INFORMATION: To find the conditions and closures, log onto our traveler information site at or call 511 from anywhere in the state. Better yet, sign up to receive wireless alerts and/or e-mails about road conditions on our web site!

SOUTHWEST COLORADO – Here we are in the midst of this winter’s fifth storm in southwest Colorado – and this is a decent one. Southwest communities are experiencing a full-on storm today, this time in the valleys as well as the high country. Colorado Department of Transportation Maintenance crews are currently on winter storm patrols—24-hour operation (with two 12-hour shifts) until they reach dry road conditions.

CDOT’s Durango Maintenance Section covers eight southwest counties and four mountain passes, including those on US 550, which boasts 110 known avalanche slide paths. Sixty-three of these paths are controlled by CDOT crews, working with Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) forecasters, because they impact the highway. Crews also control avalanche paths on SH 145 over Lizard Head Pass (Wolf Creek Pass on US 160 is controlled out of CDOT’s Alamosa Maintenance Section.)

According to the CAIC, however, we may not see the white stuff stick around for long.

“Our southern passes are still seeing periods of moderate snowfall; snowfall and wind will continue today, decreasing on the southern passes this afternoon,” said CAIC forecaster Susan Hale from Silverton. “The system is fast moving, so don't expect big accumulations—possibly up to 6 inches on US 550 over north Red Mountain Pass.”

Snowfall this past Sunday night brought more than 16 inches on US 550 Coal Bank Pass, north of Durango. The totals for the current storm, as of 10 AM today, are: Red Mountain Pass, 2.5"; Molas Pass, 7"; and Coal Bank Pass, 4". (Log on to for more details.)

“During these first winter storms of the season, we typically see more accidents,” CDOT Ridgway Area Maintenance Supervisor Greg Stacy said. “It’s snowing and blowing today—the visibility on the north passes is very poor. If you are driving to the mountains, please get the snow tires on and take it slow.”

The ridge of high pressure over Colorado will flatten over the next two days as a large closed low-pressure system approaches from the southwest. Warm air will continue to move into the state today with increasing amounts of moisture in the upper portion of the atmosphere. Winds will be in the low to moderate range from the west and southwest statewide. Low-level moisture will increase this evening as the closed low moves into California and begins to track across the southwest US. Precipitation, if any, will be limited to the high peaks until Thursday when moist southwest flow moves into the San Juan Mountains. The combination of the closed low and a second system moving in from the north could make for an interesting holiday weekend.

Region 5, Section 3, DURANGO

The entire Durango Maintenance Section (also see individual maintenance areas, below) has 106 maintenance workers and 107 pieces of snow removal and avalanche control equipment. Thirteen trucks are equipped with liquid deicer applicator tanks. Other plow trucks will carry sand/salt for providing traction or, at optimum temperatures, sand pre-wetted with liquid deicer for traction and effective ice-melting. Durango maintenance crews take care of 1,750 lane-miles (the combined lengths of each lane on every highway in the region), including five mountain passes. During last winter (2009-2010), Durango maintenance crews plowed 481,300 total lane-miles, as compared with 433,309 during the winter of 2008-2009. Crews spread 918,341 gallons of liquid deicers, up from 286,801 during 2008-2009. They also spread 28,845 tons of sand/salt (23,601 in 08-09), spent 1,595 hours on avalanche control missions (2,897 in 08-09).  Total dollars spent: $3,772,039 (previous season, $3,010,148).

NOTE: Each Maintenance Area detailed below has special crews that additional work and/or avalanche control missions (in coordination with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center) on four mountain passes:  US 550 Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes and SH 145 Lizard Head Pass (US 160 Wolf Creek Pass is maintained by Alamosa crews). Crews from both Maintenance Sections—Durango and Alamosa—assist one another with man-power and equipment during storms, as necessary.

Durango Maintenance Area

The Durango Maintenance Area has 6 patrols, located in: Pagosa Springs, Bayfield, Ignacio, Durango, Hesperus and Rockwood. The Durango Maintenance Area has 42 maintenance workers and 35 pieces of snow removal and avalanche equipment. Eleven trucks are equipped with liquid deicer applicator tanks. Other plow trucks carry sand/salt and for providing traction. Durango maintenance crews take care of 510.36 lane-miles. During last winter, Durango maintenance crews plowed 167,650. As well, crews sprayed 737,071 gallons of liquid deicer, spread 7,150 tons of sand/salt and spent 105 hours on avalanche control missions.

Cortez Maintenance Area

The Cortez Maintenance Area includes patrols in: Dove Creek, Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, Rico and Telluride. The Cortez Area has 31 maintenance workers and 37 pieces of snow removal and avalanche equipment. Cortez maintenance crews take care of 650.8 lane-miles. During last winter, Cortez maintenance crews plowed 156,439 total lane-miles.  As well, crews sprayed 143,775 gallons of liquid deicer; spread 10,887 tons of sand/salt, and spent 491.5 on avalanche control missions.

Ridgway Maintenance Area

The Ridgway Maintenance Area includes patrols in:  Cascade, Silverton, Ouray, Ridgway, Norwood, Nucla and Paradox. The Area has 33 maintenance workers and 35 pieces of snow and avalanche removal equipment. One truck is equipped with a liquid deicer applicator tank. Other plow trucks carry sand/salt for providing traction. Ridgway maintenance crews take care of 588.84 lane-miles. During last winter, Ridgway maintenance crews plowed 157,211 total lane-miles. Crews sprayed just 37,495 gallons of liquid deicer, spread 10,808 tons of sand/salt and spent 998.5 hours on avalanche control missions.


  1. Log on to CDOT’s Winter Driving web page at: for tips, road conditions, information on CDOT’s 14-hour snow plow coverage and more; or call 511 for statewide road conditions.
  2. Always keep the top half of your gas tank full. It can give you better traction and gives you a bigger margin of error if you get stuck and have to keep the engine running periodically to keep warm.
  3. If you are stuck in a serious storm do not leave your car. Run the engine periodically and wait for help.
  4. Carry blankets, water, a flashlight, a shovel, some nutrition bars or other food for sustenance. Winterize your vehicle's safety kit by including extra blankets, sand to help gain traction in the event you become stuck on ice or snow, jumper cables, an ice scraper and lock de-icer.
  5. Remember that 4-wheel drive does not mean 4-wheel stop. A 4-wheel drive vehicle will not stop any better in icy conditions, especially if you have inadequate snow tires.
  6. Be sure of your route. Don't go exploring in the back-country without some local knowledge, especially during a storm or when one is bearing down anywhere near your location.
  7. Be sure you have good tires. The Colorado State Patrol recommends at least 1/8 of an inch tread depth. All season radials on a front-wheel-drive passenger vehicle are adequate for most situations; install them on all four tires. Four snow tires on most rear-wheel drive vehicles are usually adequate. Chain restrictions in Colorado are most often put into effect for commercial vehicles (semi-trailer trucks) and do not usually affect passenger vehicles.
  8. In poor visibility or even whiteout conditions, don't drive faster than you can see ahead. High speeds in poor or no visibility can lead to large chain reaction accidents. Remember you can't see around mountain curves and corners either.
  9. In addition to these winter driving tips, CDOT reminds all motorists to respect winter weather, conduct a pre-trip inspection of your vehicle, leave extra space between your automobile and others on the road, and never drink and drive. Of course, always buckle up!