Low visibility and increased avalanche danger prompts US 550 Red Mountain Pass to remain closed tonight

Winter Travel Alert

February 7, 2024 - Southwestern Colorado - Maintenance crews will reassess avalanche hazards tomorrow morning, Thurs., Feb. 8
CDOT Photo: February 7, Colorado Department of Transportation snowblower working just south of Ouray at the Ruby Walls slide area.
CDOT Photo: February 7, Colorado Department of Transportation snowblower working just south of Ouray at the Ruby Walls slide area.

Southwest Colorado - US Highway 550 Red Mountain Pass will remain closed between Ouray and Silverton due to worsening weather conditions and increased avalanche danger. The Colorado Department of Transportation opened Coal Bank and Molas passes south of Silverton earlier in the day, at approximately 12:30 p.m.

After a safety closure was implemented late Tuesday evening, crews utilized the first break in a potentially week-long winter storm system to mitigate hazardous avalanche conditions along Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes. Wednesday afternoon ushered in heavy bands of wet snow along with strong winds creating unsafe conditions for crews to perform further maintenance on Red Mountain Pass.

“The high water content in the snowfall we are experiencing today along the US 550 corridor is increasing the avalanche risk significantly,” said Vance Kelso, CDOT maintenance supervisor. “A safety closure will remain in place on Red Mountain Pass due to low visibility and potentially hazardous conditions.”

Winter storm and avalanche warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service for the San Juan Mountains through Thursday. Another storm system will move into the region on Friday continuing through the weekend.

With steady mountain snow and unsettled conditions forecasted to last through the weekend, the potential for avalanche danger and adverse driving conditions remains high. Motorists as well as backcountry enthusiasts are urged to plan ahead, prepare for adverse winter conditions and additional potential highway closures.

Most southwest mountain passes have commercial and passenger vehicle traction laws in place. Motorists are cautioned to be prepared for winter driving conditions with adequate tires and traction devices. CDOT urges drivers to check weather forecasts (weather.gov), road conditions and traction requirements (COtrip.org) before heading out.

Backcountry users can learn about avalanche conditions by visiting Colorado.gov/avalanche for current snow condition forecasts.

Winter Travel Tips for Motorists

  • Avoid or limit driving during the brunt of the storm. Many areas of the state will experience pavement impacts and blowing snow due to strong winds.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • If you plan to travel, know before you go by checking out the latest weather conditions and visiting COtrip.org for road conditions (see info sources below).
  • Make sure your vehicle is winter ready with the appropriate tires for the weather and have a snow emergency kit.
  • Once you are out on the road, take it slow, no sudden stops and leave plenty of following distance.
  • Give plows space! Stay back three to four car lengths from snow plows.

Safety Closures

A safety closure is a precaution taken during inclement weather to reduce the probability of traffic incidents, increased congestion or other safety-related factors. During a safety closure, traffic may be stopped on the interstate, turned around or directed to an exit. Safety closures help decrease delay times, and, above all, keep travelers safe.

Chain and Traction Laws

When weather conditions warrant, CDOT will activate the Traction Law. If weather conditions deteriorate, CDOT will activate Chain Laws for passenger and commercial vehicles. Motorists will be alerted to an active Traction or Chain Law by highway signage, COtrip.org and traffic/roadway condition alerts. For more information on the Traction Law and Passenger Vehicle Chain Law requirements, visit codot.gov/travel/winter-driving/tractionlaw. For more information on the Commercial Vehicle Chain Law requirements, visit codot.gov/travel/colorado-chain-laws. To learn more and view helpful tips for winter driving, visit winter.codot.gov.

COtrip.org and COtrip Planner app

Motorists are urged to visit COtrip.org and download the COtrip Planner app ahead of traveling. Motorists are now able to sign up for travel alerts through COtrip.org to see if there are any highway closures or impacts along their favorite routes. The COtrip Planner app also offers a “Trip Planner” feature that allows motorists to map out their routes and receive updates about road closures or incidents along the way. Motorists can turn on the “Hands-Free, Eyes Free” feature to receive these alerts via voice notifications and avoid routes with impacts.

CDOT is also pleased to offer motorists the opportunity to track CDOT snow plows on the app and website, and can even follow some of our “celebrity” plows that were named by elementary school students last year. Using the snow plow tracker allows motorists to see where our plows have been and even see what the road conditions look like by viewing the cameras in the area of the plows. CDOT plows have thousands of miles of roadway to maintain, so motorists are asked to please be patient and are reminded to never pass a plow on the right or while in echelon formation. It is always safer to stay behind a plow.

Know Before You Go

Travelers are urged to “know before you go.” Gather information about weather forecasts, anticipated travel impacts and current road conditions before hitting the road. CDOT and other resources include: