Independence Pass Opens Tomorrow!

May 25, 2011 - Northwestern Colorado/CDOT Region 3 - Crews speed towards May 26 opening day with long hours and a new snowcat operation.

LAKE/PITKIN COUNTIES – These snow showers brought much more than plowers. Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance crews brought out the reinforcements to defy the winter weather and open Independence Pass by the seasonal goal date:  the Thursday before Memorial Day, 2 PM. Despite the continued snowfall (including today) crews put in long hours and added a snowcat to their cadre of machinery to get the job done.

“We owe a big thanks to these crew members—some who’ve put in 14-hour days, seven days a week to get this pass open for Memorial Day holiday travel,” CDOT Deputy Maintenance Superintendent John David said. “We also need to thank our Craig Maintenance Section, who loaned us their snowcat from Rabbit Ears Pass; with this amount of snow, we couldn’t have met our goal without it.”

The snowcat, with 12 feet of track and a blade that can twist, turn and bend, made quick work of avalanche slides, as well as record depths alongside the road (up to 25 feet) and on the road, itself (up to 8 feet). Conversely, a dozer has four feet of track and can get high-centered. The cat can also travel parallel to the roadway to clear deep snow that loaders and blowers cannot tackle as efficiently. What’s more, the powerful snowcat can roar along at 18 mph (a blower might travel 3 mph in deep snow).

Maintenance workers on each side of the pass met in the middle yesterday, with not much break for celebration. They continued work on their respective sides clearing snow drifts (and avalanche debris) as high as 25 feet in some areas with dozers, loaders, blowers, plows, motor graders and, of course, the cat.

According Rob Hunker, CDOT’s avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, there are still areas of unstable snow and, with the return of sunshine, there is a good chance of some shallow, wet bank slides. CAIC data show that the snowpack on the east side now represents 452 percent of average; and on the west side, 361 percent of average.

“We’ve had a lot of challenges on the pass this year—it’s been a very wet winter,” CDOT Eagle Maintenance Area Supervisor Jim Achatz said. “We will have equipment ready and crews on call to address any changes in weather or highway conditions.”

In the weeks ahead, crews will continue repairing guardrail, patching, striping and repairing signs and delineators as needed. The 12,095-foot pass is closed each winter, due to harsh winter weather conditions, for the safety of the traveling public.

“This has been a big winter up here—and with the snowmelt, it’s not over,” CDOT Glenwood Springs Maintenance Area Supervisor D’Wayne Gaymon said. “With banks of up to 30 feet high, we’re going to have to keep at it—and motorists need to drive slowly and stay prepared for winter conditions.”

TRAVELER SAFETY MESSAGE: Travelers are reminded that even after the pass opens, nighttime temperatures are still low, at 27 degrees, which can mean icy conditions. Also, spring snowstorms could close the pass again temporarily or slow traffic at times. For roadway conditions, or information on CDOT projects statewide, the public can log on to or call 511. Or, sign up to receive FREE road condition messages to your e-mail or wireless device by going to and choosing the green phone icon in the upper right-hand corner.

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