Southwest Colorado Travel Update: Saturday Avalanche Control Work Produces Incredible and Daunting Results

March 10, 2019 6:30 a.m. - US 550 Red Mountain Pass to Remain Closed Indefinitely

CAIC PHOTO: Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance staff, with partnering agency Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters, performed avalanche mitigation with a helicopter on Saturday, March 9th. This is a photo of the Cement Fill avalanche path as the triggered slide careens down the mountain towards US 550 south of Red Mountain Pass summit.

CDOT avalanche control crews performed helicopter operations Saturday morning, March 9, to address more than 20 avalanche paths on three mountain passes that had the potential of snow reaching the roadway. As a result of this mitigation, incredible amounts of snow and debris have hit the road and require the continued and indefinite closure of US Highway 550 Red Mountain Pass.

Nine out of 13 slide paths had significant amounts of snow hit the highway.  The aircrew reported that the half mile of snow and debris deposit, which already existed on the highway from mitigation of the Brooklyns earlier this week, has now doubled. The depth of the snow slide is now estimated to be 60 feet deep on the highway.

“Today’s mitigation results are daunting. It will mean a lot of work and hundreds of man hours to clear this road. We will need to acquire more bulldozers and look to other CDOT regions to help us out with equipment and personnel.” said CDOT Deputy Superintendent of Maintenance, John Palmer, who oversaw the operations.

Also of great concern to CDOT officials is the West Riverside slide which brought down 40 to 60 feet of new snow over a 300 foot stretch of highway. The snow slide also filled the Riverside snow shed and likely took out several of the lights within the shed.

Palmer added, “These significant runs only reinforce the high avalanche danger warnings issued this week by our partnering agency the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, along with our decision to close this pass for safety. What’s more, slides that have never hit the roadway before, crushed both lanes with tens of feet of snow.”

CDOT PHOTOS above and below: The West Riverside slide, triggered Saturday, March 9, brought down an avalanche of snow about 40 to 60 ft. deep and filled the snow shed. The slide and shed are located on the north side of Red Mountain Pass, US 550.

In addition to Red Mountain Pass being mitigated yesterday, crews also performed avalanche control work on US 550 Molas Pass and CO 145 Lizard Head Pass. Both passes were safely opened to the traveling public by mid-morning. Crews continue to perform shoulder work and snow removal to widen the highways.


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.