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Avalanches, heavy snowfall could delay opening of Independence Pass

Impressive snowfall and avalanches could delay the traditional opening of Independence Pass near Aspen.

ASPEN, Colo. — In a typical year, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) gets Independence Pass open by the Thursday before Memorial Day. This year, that might not happen due to heavy snowfall and several large avalanches.

“We have some work ahead of us,” said CDOT supervisor Tim Holbrook.

The pass closes on or around Nov. 7 and remains closed until the following May due to the narrow sections of the highway that, at times, are just wide enough for one car. There are also steep grades and drop-offs.

Crews with CDOT are working to clear Highway 82 over Independence Pass but there are plenty of challenges. A snowslide called the Green Mountain Avalanche ran so large it went uphill.

Credit: Matt Renoux

“It came down, hit the bottom floor and the momentum brought it uphill I would say 150 feet uphill," said Holbrook.

It also covered the highway with more than 30 feet of snow, ice, and debris.

“It does run across the road but relatively speaking this would be small about the six-foot range. I have never seen anything like this,”’ said Holbrook.

RELATED: Avalanche could close Conundrum Creek Trailhead, parking lot into the summer

Many of the slides also brought down huge trees and rocks and that’s made it tough to clear the road. 

“There’s a spot on this side of the pass, the Aspen side, where 300 feet of guard rail has been taken out,” said Tracy Truelove, a spokeswoman for CDOT.

Credit: Matt Renoux

It all means there’s a chance Independence Pass might not open on the traditional Thursday before Memorial Day.

Holbrook and his team have carved through some of the snow and hope to meet that deadline to give people a chance to see firsthand how much work was done.

“I think they are going to understand what CDOT really goes through,” he said.

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