Independence Pass opened on Friday, May 31, a welcome sign of summer after a snowy spring. The opening marks the first time in over a decade that Independence Pass was not open for Memorial Day Weekend.
Colorado Department of Transportation crews spent two months plowing snow and clearing avalanche debris off U.S. 82. The department also fixed fallen guardrails, repainted lines, filled potholes and conducted avalanche mitigation along the pass.
Independence Pass’s delayed opening is emblematic of a historic winter of snow storms.
“We are still sort of getting a handle on how last winter fits into the pantheon of history,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Greene said at a presentation at Colorado Mountain College last month.
No one particular event causes an avalanche cycle. According to Greene, early snowfalls in October stuck around at high elevations, forming a weak base that large storms would hit later in the winter.
Hit they did. In March, Colorado experienced what Greene described as a 300-year avalanche cycle. Avalanches ran longer and larger than in recent memory, closing major highways, destroying houses, burying cars and even causing fatalities.
CAIC recorded 130 very large destructive avalanches in Colorado throughout the winter. The state has only experienced six avalanches of such magnitude in the previous decade, Greene said.
In Lake County, avalanches shut down highways, damaged power lines, and isolated Lake County residents who live to the west of Twin Lakes along Colo. 82.
On March 8, the roof of Kristi Lanes Bowling collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and public entities and local businesses closed their doors.
Leadville/Lake County Fire-Rescue stayed busy responding to gas-leak scares throughout the spring and the City of Leadville hired contractors to help the Street Department keep roads clear.
“This is the most snow I’ve seen in April in 17 years at the county,” Lake County Public Works Director Brad Palmer told the Herald as he plowed Turquoise Lake Road last month.
“There is a lot of stress on local governments,” Greene said of counties who will be expected to clear avalanche debris off roadways as the weather warms. Other debris piles located far in the backcountry will remain, waiting for whatever Mother Nature deems best.