Red Mountain Pass will remain closed through the weekend as a result of significant snowslides on both sides of the pass on U.S. Highway 550, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
And the Colorado Avalanche Information Center announced that the threat of avalanches in the northern and southern San Juan Mountains was its of avalanches increased to “high” – Level 4 of five levels ranging from “low” to “extreme.” Travel in the high country is not recommended.
“The significant avalanche runs we are seeing on our mountain passes highlights the risk and why the pass will remain closed,” CDOT Regional Transportation Director Mike McVaugh said Thursday in a news release. “We will not be placing our crews in areas along the U.S. 550 mountain corridor where avalanche risk is high. Crews will continue working only in safe areas.”
The pass has been closed since about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, when a naturally occurring slide covered the road.
Crews used an avalanche blasting gun Monday to mitigate for more slides. One of those blasts brought down a huge slab of snow that covered a half mile section of road 10- to 30-feet deep in some areas, said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman with CDOT. The snowslide included an extensive amount of debris, limbs and trees. Extra equipment was needed and has been called in from others areas to clear the highway.
“It took one shot (from an avalanche gun) and we had a ton of snow come down,” Schwantes said.
Additional mitigation is planned for Wednesday.
“This extended closure has been implemented to ensure the safety of the traveling public, said Regional Transportation Director Mike McVaugh. “It’s our desire to get all paths mitigated and safe prior to the next round of winter weather that begins as early as tonight (Tuesday night).”
Other passes in the region were open, including Coal Bank, Molas, Wolf Creek and Lizard Head. Northbound travelers from Durango can reach Silverton. Southbound travelers from Ridgway can reach Ouray. However, drivers traveling from Durango to Ouray (or Ouray to Durango) may consider the alternate, more westerly route via Colorado Highway 145 through Telluride.
Drivers are advised to watch for snow removal operations, especially on the shoulders of mountain passes.
Travelers should also watch for rocks in the road and be aware of potential rockfall. Increased rockfall activity is occurring along cliff wall areas because of spring-like conditions and freeze-thaw cycles.
In Colorado’s central Rockies, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center raised the danger level reached Level 5, the highest level, in the Aspen, Gunnison, Summit and Vail areas. Facing an “extreme” threat, travelers were advised to avoid all avalanche terrain.
Earlier this week, eastbound and westbound lanes of I-70 are covered by snow brought down between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Georgetown.
Firefighters say an avalanche about 5 a.m. Thursday near Copper Mountain ruptured a natural gas pipeline. Nearby highways, including a stretch of nearby Interstate 70, the state’s busy east-west highway, was shut down as a precaution as crews work to shut off the gas.
Meanwhile, a tow truck was caught in an avalanche just after midnight on I-70 at Vail Pass. The Colorado State Patrol said the driver was not seriously injured.
The Associated Press and The Journal contributed to this article.