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Red Mountain Pass opens following 2-week closure

The pass reopened Friday morning. It had been closed since March 3.

SILVERTON, Colo. —

Crews with the Colorado Department of Transportation made so much progress this week to clear massive amounts of snow and debris from Red Mountain Pass that it was reopened on Friday.

CDOT urged travelers to drive with caution through the area and said they would encounter equipment working all along the pass. 

“This was a difficult and challenging operation,”  CDOT Maintenance Superintendent, Greg Stacy said. “Mother nature kept hitting us with multiple storms in a row. It was frustrating because the conditions forced us off the mountain for days because of the threat of avalanches hitting the highway. However, we knew the risk was too high and it was not safe to work. It was the right thing to do for the safety of our operators.”

Snow removal operations will continue to widen and clear the shoulders of the roadway. CDOT also advised the public to be aware of changing weather conditions, and the potential for snow slides as the weather warms up.

US Highway 550, Red Mountain Pass, had been closed since March 3. Last weekend, a helicopter crew set out to “knock-down” more than 25 slide paths that were primed for collapsing onto highways, CDOT said in a release. 

Once the snow was brought down onto the closed highway, equipment operators used heavy machines to start pushing it out of the way. Crews started on the south side of the pass, just north of Silverton and by the afternoon operations on the north side were complete.

Credit: CDOT
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.

Crews then began work near the Riverside snow shed, just south of Ouray. They were assigned 12-hour shifts working around the clock 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," said CDOT Area Maintenance Supervisor, Vance Kelso. "Crews can now work without risk of potential slides. We are remaining optimistic that with cooperative weather and decreasing avalanche danger, we can get this pass opened within the next two weeks.”

Last week's weather and high avalanche danger prevented crews from performing snow removal operations on Red Mountain Pass.

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.

RELATED: 'Just hold onto something': Family describes surviving avalanche that swept them off I-70

Avalanche danger has been high in Colorado in recent weeks, and numerous other slides covered major roadways forcing them to closes for hours. One couple and their daughter were swept off Interstate 70 by an avalanche while on the way back from a day of skiing.

Four cars were buried in an avalanche on Highway 91 between Leadville and Copper Mountain on March 7, according to CDOT.

RELATED: 4 cars buried by avalanche on Highway 91

All people inside the buried vehicles have been accounted and no injuries were reported. Photos from aftermath shows snow piled up to one vehicle's doors.  

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