Independence Pass Bummer

Post by blogger | May 28, 2008      

May 29 PM Update
Inside source says the official opening of Independence Pass is now June 5th, 1:00 PM. Source also says they’ll be grinding some of the road for new pave, so bicycle riders may not exactly enjoy that situation.

(original post below)

Well, time to blog some bad news. Reports are coming in that they’ve still got miles of road to open before they’ll ungate Independence Pass, the road connecting Aspen with points east and providing access to a vast region of high altitude backcountry skiing. Thus, the road is not opening as anticipated for this Friday. We’ve heard estimates of everything from several more days to a week, with newspaper reports saying it’ll open the weekend after next.

Independence Pass, Colorado.
The promised land. You can go up there if you drive a catering truck. Otherwise, be gone you pesky public.

Sadly, the situation has some unfortunate wrinkles that chap my hide. For starters, bicycle riders are reporting that a film company and associated support vehicles are being allowed to use the plowed portion of the road — while regular folk like us are shut out. More, even though they’ve got a gate up at Lincoln Creek, they’ll continue to close the road by shutting the lower gate, thus blocking us from a slew of excellent skiing that could be had from the upper gate. Also, what’s the deal with allowing bicycles and not cars? That is incredibly elitist and discriminatory. If the road is closed, I say close it to everyone.

By all accounts it was a circus up there today. A CDOT vehicle was turned on its side off the road, being recovered. Adding chaos, a catering truck was motoring up and down the pave tempting bicycle riders with smoked barbecue aromas. All the while a State Trooper was spending hours guarding the gate so regular folks like us wouldn’t think we could go up there and enjoy ourselves.

What a joke. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble laughing.

There are alternatives (though they pale in comparison to alpine access provided by the Inde Pass road). The folks who plow the Fryingpan Arkansas water roads (out of Basalt, Colorado) got their snow removal done weeks ago up the Fryingpan, and they don’t bother with gates (perhaps CDOT needs to hire them). So that’s an option, along with the Castle Creek road out of Aspen. Marble area is still yielding skiing as well, and farther afield from our home base, a few hours of driving takes us to the San Juans, Vail Pass, or Loveland Pass.

So we shall see what the weekend brings.

Independence Pass, Colorado.
Photo Ryan sent in that he got from CDOT, thanks Ryan! This is above the upper hairpin on the Western Slope side, Linkins Peak in background. Looks to me like they need to stop piddling around and hire some of those miners from the San Juans to clear our roads. But then, I think the issue is that they can’t use big machinery or it’ll wreck the pavement. To that I say take it back to dirt like the old days. Or just do staggered gates so we can use the road our tax money paid to be cleared!


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39 Responses to “Independence Pass Bummer”

  1. Scott Nelson May 28th, 2008 6:54 pm

    Geez…and here I worked a half-day today (12 hrs) just to try and get Friday off to head up the Pass and have some time to mount my new K2 Mount Baker Superlights too. Oh well. Anyone ever ride their bike up there with all their AT gear on their backs? I’m tempted, not really….

    Interesting article in one of the local papers this week about the Forest Service charging fees for access to public lands too. Isn’t the 40% or so of my income good enough? Too much government. Maybe its time for another Boston Tea Party.

  2. Frank K May 28th, 2008 6:59 pm

    Lou, that’s a bummer that you can’t at least get to Lincoln creek. The FS told Brittany that Maroon creek will open this weekend- Any truth to that one?

    Any idea what is getting filmed up the road?

    On the bright side, crews did a great job in Yankee Boy basin. We only needed 4 hours and fifteen minutes door to door to ski Sneffels. We might have done it in as little as 4 hours and 10 minutes had we been on dynafits 😉

  3. Lou May 28th, 2008 7:00 pm

    How about a gate crashing party? Seems like everyone is telling me that dissent and civil disobedience are what make our country great. Might as well man up and get ‘er done?

  4. Lou May 28th, 2008 7:04 pm

    Frank, it’s truly a tragedy that you guys don’t use Dynafits. But then, what hurts you makes you stronger, right? (grin)

    A friend just told me that the Maroon Creek Road still has a bunch of snow on it, so I’d say we need to check on the opening date. If anyone has any info or can get some tomorrow, please leave a comment. If that road was open this weekend it would be great. We wanted to celebrate our son’s 18th birthday with a barbecue up Independence on Sunday, perhaps we could do that up Maroon Creek if it opens…

  5. Chase May 28th, 2008 10:33 pm

    Had a friend call this afternoon, he had ridden his bike
    up the pass to upper lost man and he told me that a
    snow plow had gone over the edge. The driver was ok.
    I called CDOT after I talked to him and the person from
    CDOT told me the pass will not open till next weekend.
    Also in regards to Maroon Creek, I was told by a very
    reliable source that Marroon Creek is plowed to Silver Bell
    camp ground. That’s it. Also there were some huge boulders
    that came down on the road above the second cattle guard
    and left some incredable damage. Sounds like Maroon Creek
    want open for a while either.

  6. Sooty May 28th, 2008 11:41 pm

    Does anyone know if HWY 82 is open from the Twin Lakes side (east) of Independence Pass to South Fork Road and the La Plata Gulch Trailhead? Thanks for any info.

  7. Brian May 29th, 2008 8:17 am

    Hwy 82 is open to the La Plata Gulch trailhead and then some. The skiing above timber was great on Monday, but enjoy whackin through punchy nasty timber.

  8. cory May 29th, 2008 9:10 am

    Frustrating. Once again, the all-mighty dollar rules in Aspen as they let a film crew up and keep the commoners out.

  9. Sooty May 29th, 2008 9:24 am

    Brian, Thanks for the road info on the east side of the pass. Timber whackin’ through punchy snow sounds challenging. I doubt you saw any catering trucks or film crews as you made your approach. Thanks again!

  10. dave downing May 29th, 2008 9:49 am

    To be fair guys, the CDOT crews have been working there butts off on the pass (a buddy of mine is one of them). On top of all the extra snow on the pass, they kept having to stop snow removal to plow open roads like mcclure the last few weeks b/c it won’t stop snowing. Seeing as they only have so many people, and we only want the road open so we can recreate, it’s not exactly a priority with other roads in need of work. As for the film crew, they are paying, you know they are. Plus that crew would be easier to manage than a bunch of skiers up there. If we had to pay to access this week, we’d all raise a fit. It’s frustrating, but lets give the CDOT guys a hand for even bothering to move any snow instead of just letting it melt. I’m sure they’d feel pretty bummed if they read this blog and posts after all the work they’ve already put in. Maybe the film crews $$$$ will go to some well-deserved over time bonuses for the guys getting Indy pass open at all.

  11. Tom G May 29th, 2008 10:07 am

    Thanks to Dave for injecting some truth into the rants here. I imagine the reason they don’t allow people to drive further up is that having 30 or 40 cars parked on the road might complicate things a bit. Maybe we should pay higher taxes so that CDOT has some money to build parking areas for the skiers to use while they plow the road? I think not.

  12. Lou May 29th, 2008 10:10 am

    Good points Dave, but to be fair, they could simply open the plowed part of the road to Lincoln Creek, where there is parking and people could recreate from. People could walk to the rock climbing from there, as well reaching a bunch of skiing. Why they open it to bicycles and film crews and can’t do more is just laziness, arrogance, and politics, in my opinion. It has nothing to do with getting the job done of plowing the remaining two or three miles.

    How do I know this? Because I was here back in the day when the road was not gated, and it worked out fine. More people now so they’d have to block it somewhere, but the lower gate is not the right place to do so.

    As for money changing hands, if our local newspapers could do more than just reporting news that was in a blog post the day before, perhaps we could find out about that. After all, they have paid reporters that supposedly do that sort of thing. Of course, they’re busy writing negative articles about growth in El Jebel, so perhaps they don’t have time.

  13. Lou May 29th, 2008 10:23 am

    So Tom, the opposite of the truth is a falsehood or lie. Are there some lies in my rant? If so, they’re unintentional and I’d be happy to correct.

    As for parking, it could easily be done by using one lane/shoulder of the road, at the point where the road is closed. It’s a public road, imperfect parking is no excuse to shut us out. If that was the case perhaps they should close all trailheads where the parking is limited or less than ideal — including the top of the Pass once it opens, or Maroon Creek at T-7, or Loveland Pass, or all the water roads up the Fryingpan?

    Or we just give up and worship CDOT as the all knowing entity that has the vision for everything we need?

    P.S., Come on you guys, be realistic. If they can deal with a movie being made up there, they can deal with parking… but like Dave says, perhaps it’s about the $$$$.

  14. dave downing May 29th, 2008 11:09 am

    i guess this is just were we differ in opinions. I couldn’t imagine allowing parking at the lower gate working. There is rarely enough shoulder for a car to park on the pass when it’s clear, let alone when there is snow on the shoulder. So you fill one lane up with parking, and as soon as anyone starts back down, then the CDOT vehicle coming up (in the wrong lane due to parking) will be head on with skiers coming down. I’m not worried about an accident, but then you have people trying to back who knows how far, confusion as other cars come in behind, etc etc. It would be a nightmare. And then we would all complain about how bad parking and traffic were handled:) And this is assuming that people even parked well enough to allow the first people in to get out. If you need something to ski this weekend, it’s an easy hike in to the Caslte creek foot bridge right now, and a TON of snow from there. Mace peak would be pretty easy. by this weekend you can probably even drive to the first major slide path (Kellogg?) and take 1/2 to 3/4 miles off the walk in.

    am i ranting yet? lou, you’re rubbing off on me:)

  15. Lou May 29th, 2008 11:47 am

    No, not a rant, just a well thought out surrender (g).

  16. Dongshow May 29th, 2008 12:12 pm

    loved reading the rants, nice change for us. In AK we have the forest service closing areas to snowmobiles for “resource damage” that still have 3 feet of snow, I guess the poor alders may get trampled, but very little gating. Surely someone has to have some 4 wheelers and they can rally past a gate?

    Agree with the need for civil disobedience. Bolt cutters, dark night, problem solved.

  17. Steve May 29th, 2008 1:08 pm

    Interesting take on this Lou.

    I would think not allowing cars up the road would weed out the riff-raft and make the experience all the better. Besides…biking to ski just adds to the workout and saves money on gas. And I thought I didn’t like biking.

    I can see being pissed about the film crew….I would be too. But personally…I’d just be happy that CoDOT is actually clearing the road…instead of waiting for mother nature to do it her own way.

    Remember Lou…it is called “backcountry” skiing…not “roadside’ skiing.


  18. Steve May 29th, 2008 1:25 pm

    edit to add…

    It’s like saying…just because they let people climb the Grand Teton under their own power…they should also allow heli-skiing and snowmobiling in Garnet Canyon. I think not.

  19. Lou May 29th, 2008 1:31 pm

    Steve, you’ve got a point. But biking 11 miles with a trailer or backpack, up a steep grade to 12,000 feet elevation, is perhaps a bit much for many people — especially when you’re needing an alpine start. Let’s be realistic. When you’re as fit and strong as you are it’s easy to forget about the rest of us out here, since ski poles don’t have rear view mirrors .

    That said, I concede there are indeed some closer lines to the road closure where bicycle access might work. But the best stuff is now the higher elevation terrain up near the top of the Pass.

  20. Lou May 29th, 2008 1:34 pm

    edit to add…

    Yeah, my point about closing to bicycles was rhetorical. I’d not want to see that happen!

    Next thing you know people are going to think I’m anti bicycle, knowing the way the internet works… Probably a mistake on my part to even allude to such a thing.

  21. Tom G May 29th, 2008 1:35 pm

    Lou, yes the opposite of the truth is a falsehood, but I never accused you of lying – don’t read more than what I wrote. I’m glad Dave said that CDOT crews are working their tails off plowing snow this year. I know some people who do this work and it’s been a hard year. How many ski days so you think they got in this past winter? Additionally, CDOT does cut back on the number of plow drivers at the end of winter, so when it keeps snowing like it has this year they have to plow more year-round roads with fewer people. Thus a road that is basically a recreational road (and not essential to state and interstate commerce and safety) has to take a back seat. If you’ve ever plowed roads you understand that parked cars on the shoulder are a problem. If there is a parking area that is out of the way, and it sounds like there is, then parking may not be an issue. The film crew is ridiculous. Can we get some actual confirmation that they are up there, other than just a “some dude said”? Of course with CDOT it’s always about the money. On the other hand, if they can make a little money to offset the road maintenance costs while impacting very few people, then maybe it’s not so bad. And, as you’ve said, there are lots of places to ski in Colorado.

    Perhaps a guest blog or interview with the CDOT maintenance manager is in order. But your blog is best(and probably more commercially viable) when you just stick to the skiing. In the end it is your blog, though, so feel free to blog away.

  22. Lou May 29th, 2008 1:38 pm

    And as I blog away, let me say thanks for the comments!

  23. michael May 29th, 2008 1:47 pm

    Can one not get to Independence Mountain?

  24. dave downing May 29th, 2008 2:03 pm

    lou, to prove your anti-anti-bike stance, perhaps we should bike up indy pass and ski? though, i’d actually heard that they’d closed it to bikes b/c of all the control work they were doing. anyone heard more on that topic?

  25. Lou May 29th, 2008 2:36 pm

    It’s quite some distance up the closed road to the town of Independence, where you’d do Inde Mtn. from, of course, if you’re strong and have the right bicycle equipment it’s certainly possible, as Steve pointed out.

  26. Lou May 29th, 2008 2:40 pm
  27. dave downing May 29th, 2008 4:32 pm

    bike motors? that is just so so wrong…and possibly a little bit evil. we’ll probably see lou on the Tricycles with Happy Honda 35 CC soon 😉

  28. CDOT Boss Randy G. May 29th, 2008 4:43 pm

    To all concernerned citizens:
    We are working dillingently to open the pass to the general public. The greatest hurdle we have come up against is the large amount of snow that we are attempting to clear from the roadway, respected shoulders, and traditional stopping areas.
    Most of our workdays start well before sunrise. We traditionally start the day with a safety meeting and coffee as we discuss the goals, dangers, and objectives of the day. We, as most of the general public would agree; do not want to see anyone get hurt.
    As a wellness perk of our positions here at CDOT, we have been bringing skiis to work. The skiing has been so fabulous that we usually go out for at least one run. The skiing has been so good that we usually do a couple runs. Sometimes we ski till the sun is going down. It is kind of addictive.
    We are not trying to hoard all the skiing on the pass …it is just hard to operate all that heavy equipment after skiing all day.
    We usually end the day with another safety meeting followed by nachos at cooper street pier.

  29. Lou May 29th, 2008 4:55 pm


  30. Ann May 29th, 2008 5:16 pm

    CDOT Boss – like it – can I come and work for you?

    Seriously, to add to Tom G’s comments, I understand it’s a matter of priorities and funding. From what I know of CDOT and State finances, their budget for plowing this year was exceeded early on in the season. The majority of their operational funding comes from the fuel tax. This is a fixed amount, so even though the price of fuel continues to rise, CDOT’s revenues do not. To add to that, with more fuel efficient vehicles, people are buying less gas and revenues for CDOT have stayed flat while costs continue to rise. This has been the case for a number of years and the department is barely keeping up with maintenance of the state’s highways. I would imagine that CDOT is doing the best they can.

  31. Scott Nelson May 29th, 2008 6:42 pm

    Maybe if they just put a roundabout up there it would clear everything up.

  32. Lou May 29th, 2008 7:56 pm

    Whatever happens, don’t let Aspen have a say in it, that’s for sure! If that happens, they’d probably make the road one-lane with no parking — anything to create a traffic jam.

  33. adam olson May 30th, 2008 6:43 am

    The road to the Bells is clear. T lazy 7 retrieved their little rat infested hot chocolate cabin that was parked at the lake. There is no way they could have got that thing down the road with ANY snow or damage to the road.

    The now infamous film crew was up at T Lazy 7 too. They were accessing past the gate to the Bells w/ a KEY TO THE GATE and Polaris Ranger OHV. This is also typical of our local ski company too, close off the goods for photos and personal gain. It would seem so much of the contempt for the film company comes from jealousy? Sure they pay the fees, but do they deserve to make a profit at the expense of public access? It should be the film crews who have to bicycle miles of plowed road w/ cameras strapped to their backs!!!

    So much for the pride of the snowplowers this year, eh. Do you think driving a plow off the road slowed there progress any??

    From now on I will be carring a “universal key” (bolt cutter) in my TAV.


  34. Lou May 30th, 2008 7:24 am

    Consolation is that the Maroon Bells road opens today to the “public.” Adam, did you find out what movie they were shooting?

  35. michael May 30th, 2008 12:11 pm

    Thanks for the beta on Independence Mountain. As we have booked rooms in Aspen already, could you advise as to a couple of other morning ski alternative?

  36. dave downing May 30th, 2008 1:22 pm

    @michael: Mace Peak or something in that area could be nice still. A short hike in (hiking boots) but good snow up there still (as of tuesday).

  37. Joel May 30th, 2008 1:57 pm

    CDOT has no money……it’s a simple as that. The “gas tax”, which is supposed to be towards our crumbling road and bridge infrastructure is constantly being siphoned off by other public services like schools and such. It’s interesting, TABOR prevents the tax hikes that would seem appropriate for our low ranking, underfunded education system, so they and other underfunded social services take cash from the gas tax fund. So CDOT is billions of dollars short for bridge maintenance, road design and crews to plow indy pass. It’s a bummer, but it’s quite a conundrum. There is no simple answer, and the guy plowing your road isn’t a legislator. Perhaps the anger should be directed to other avenues such as your elected officials?

  38. dave downing June 2nd, 2008 11:25 am

    Great Walls of Snow! And we wondered why CDOT was taking so long to clear the pass. . From todays Aspen .

  39. Lou June 2nd, 2008 11:46 am

    I’d heard some of the shelf road was filled with huge piles, cool to see a photo. Again, I’ve no doubt the delayed opening was necessary based on CDOT’s resources, but I’m still of the opinion that they could gate it higher. Sort of that archaic attitude of getting our government to go the extra mile for us. How old fashioned!

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