Independence Pass is expected to open Friday evening, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
In most years, the pass opens on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, which was May 23 this year. Due to high snowpack and avalanche debris left over from the winter season, CDOT crews had more work to do this year, necessitating the additional time.
Workers have been “trying hard, but the weather this week has not been helping the situation,” CDOT spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said, referencing a storm system that kept conditions cold and snowy on the pass Monday through Wednesday morning.
Helicopter-assisted avalanche mitigation took place on Friday. On that same day, crews working from the Twin Lakes side — where the snow is deeper — pushed through to the summit, Trulove said. The team working up the Pitkin County side had made the summit the week before, but have spent much of the time since then rebuilding a guardrail along the top cut that was damaged by avalanches.
Trulove said CDOT is currently shooting for a 5:30 p.m. opening of the pass on Friday, giving crews a full day to finish any remaining work. Motorists should check cotrip.org — CDOT’s travel information website — for status updates on Thursday and Friday.
Independence Pass crosses the Continental Divide at 12,095 feet above sea level and connects Aspen and Twin Lakes. It provides a more direct route to the Front Range and the Arkansas River Valley.
A drive over to the Twin Lakes side will be well worth it to view the damage left behind by natural avalanches, Trulove said. While a slide off of Green Mountain on the Pitkin County side deposited broken trees and boulders around the road, an avalanche near the La Plata trailhead in Lake County is “four times the magnitude,” she said.
“The amount of downed trees on that side is unreal,” she said.
High snowbanks on the upper reaches of the pass could also prove hazardous as temperatures warm, causing the banks to collapse. CDOT will continue monitoring the road and will clear the snow possible, but drivers should remain vigilant and not exceed posted speed limits on the narrow, winding road, Trulove said.