Despite ’weak’ snowpack, Indy Pass set to open by usual date

Mike Roskiewicz rides his bike down Independence Pass while the road remains closed to motor vehicles in Aspen on Friday, May 7, 2021. Roskiewicz rides the pass at least once a week to Lincoln Creek and summits once a year. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Colorado Department of Transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule at noon May 27, officials said this week.

As of last weekend, the road was cleared to Lost Man Campground, which is just below the ghost town of Independence, said Karin Teague, director of the Independence Pass Foundation. Teague was out of town last week and didn’t get a chance to bike the road, though she said she assumed crews had continued to push toward the 12,095-foot summit.

“(The Colorado Department of Transportation) is making quick progress, aided by some of the warm days we’ve had,” Teague said. “There’s some cracks and potholes like usual. I think CDOT will be doing some repairs.”

Elise Thatcher, a local CDOT spokeswoman, said crews began the effort to clear the road to the pass the last week of April and have found some rockfall that needed to be cleared. The pass, which generally opens the Thursday before Memorial Day, is on track for that day this year, she said. Asked if the light snowpack this year means the road might open early, Thatcher said CDOT didn’t know yet.

“From what I can tell, I don’t know that we know at this point if we can open early,” she said.

Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, monitors the Independence Pass area through winter and said he thinks the road should be open by the Memorial Day target date.

“It’s not an excessively large job this year,” he said. “It sounds like CDOT crews are making good progress up there.”

Greene called this year’s snowpack “exceptionally weak” and below normal, though he said the backcountry Independence Pass area experienced its share of avalanches this season. Most occurred between December and February on the numerous steep, high peaks in the area, though they generally didn’t reach the road like the massive avalanches that occurred in the spring of 2019, he said.

“It was a pretty active avalanche year up there,” he said. “They were not really big like we’ve seen in this part of the state, but there were a lot of small avalanches.”

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