DENVER – Red Mountain Pass over U.S. Highway 550 in southwestern Colorado reopened Friday morning 19 days after it was first closed due to massive avalanches that covered the roadway.
The pass between Silverton and Ouray had been closed since March 3 amid several feet of snow that week and avalanches that left up to 60 feet of snow across some parts of the highway.
The Colorado Department of Transportation said early this week they believed it could take up to two weeks to get the pass back open, but crews worked 24 hours a day this week to get the pass ready to open.
“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.”
Last Friday, crews triggered avalanches in the area from a helicopter that brought down slides on 20 avalanche paths in over the 20-mie stretch of U.S. 550.
But it wasn’t just snow that came down. CDOT says that large rocks, including a boulder 11 feet wide, along with trees and other debris all came down with the avalanches.
CDOT said that crews and equipment from around southwestern and western Colorado were brought in to help clear the snow.
But CDOT says that drivers should still use caution over the pass, as snow removal equipment will continue to work to try and clear the highway’s shoulders. There is also some snow forecast in the area over the weekend, so CDOT is advising people not to stop in avalanche slide zones.
“Although the first day of spring was just marked on the calendar this week, storms are still very likely to happen in our southwest mountains. Heavy spring snow storms could mean adverse driving conditions and continued potential avalanche danger,” Stacy said. “We advise drivers to not stop in avalanche prone areas.”
CDOT says the average snow depth over the road was 3 feet but the avalanches brought down between 10 and 60 feet of snow in some places. The cost of the closure and removal operations has yet to be determined.