Southwest Colorado Travel Update: Crews Make Progress on US 550 Red Mountain Pass

March 18, 2019 - CDOT officials say pass could open in two weeks, but the continued closure means no skiers/snowshoers allowed.

CDOT PHOTO: A wall of snow towers above the bulldozer on South Red Mountain Pass. Over the weekend Colorado Department of Transportation crews started clearing the massive amounts of snow and debris from the Brooklyns slide that has been covering the highway for two weeks.

SOUTHWEST COLORADO ― Saturday avalanche mitigation efforts proved successful for a helicopter crew that set out to “knock-down” more than 25 slide paths that were primed for collapsing onto highways. The bulk of the operations took place on US Highway 550 Red Mountain Pass which has been closed since Sunday, March 3.  

Last week’s unsettled weather and high avalanche danger prevented crews from performing snow removal operations on Red Mountain Pass. By mid-morning on Saturday, after the first of several slides had been triggered and fallen onto the closed highway, equipment operators with their arsenal of heavy machines headed down the closed road to start pushing snow out of the way. Crews started on the south side of the pass, just north of Silverton. By early afternoon mitigation had been completed on the north side of the pass allowing crews to work near the Riverside snow shed, just south of Ouray. Crews are assigned to 12-hour shifts working around the clock in order to get the pass open.  

“We have never encountered avalanche slides to this magnitude. We’re pleased with the outcome of the avalanche control operations. Crews can now work without risk of potential slides,” said CDOT Area Maintenance Supervisor, Vance Kelso. “We are remaining optimistic that with cooperative weather and decreasing avalanche danger, we can get this pass opened within the next two weeks.”

Mitigation operations were also performed Saturday morning on two other southwest Colorado passes, US 550 Molas Pass and CO 145 Lizard Head Pass. Both passes were opened to the traveling public by mid-morning.

CDOT PHOTO: CDOT crews punched a hole through the Riverside shed which had been filled with snow and debris from a triggered avalanche. A massive amount of snow awaits the team on the other side of the tunnel on North Red Mountain Pass.


The continued closure of Red Mountain Pass restricts anyone from accessing the highway. This includes vehicles and foot traffic as well. Skiers, snowshoers and hikers are warned that if they are caught within the closure area, they will be reported to the San Juan and Ouray Sheriffs’ Departments.

“This closure is for the safety of all,” said CDOT Maintenance Foreman, Paul Wilson. “We have many pieces of heavy equipment including, bull dozers, loaders, track hoes and snow blowers moving about on the roadway. Our crews need to focus on the task at hand ― opening this road to the traveling public and to the residents of our local communities. This work can progress more quickly without the distraction or hazard of anyone else in the work area.”   

CDOT PHOTO: After successful avalanche mitigation over the weekend, CDOT’s crews are now able to safely work around the clock. Heavy equipment operators are working 12-hour shifts, 24-7, in an effort to open US 550 Red Mountain Pass to the traveling public.


CDOT reminds the traveling public that an alternate route is available for through traffic or motorists traveling from Durango to Ouray (or Ouray to Durango).  Motorists should consider the more westerly route via CO Highway 145 through Telluride. See map below.