The town of Silverton and San Juan County have closed all travel on county roads because of high avalanche danger and are strongly encouraging people to avoid recreating in the backcountry.
In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, San Juan County’s Office for Emergency Management said county roads 2, 33 and 110, as well as Shrine Road, are closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
“These road closures are about safety due to avalanche danger,” said spokeswoman DeAnne Gallegos. “Natural slides are running and covering the roads.”
Silverton officials also strongly discourage recreational use of the backcountry while high avalanche danger conditions exist.
“Our resources are maxed out,” Gallegos said, “and it’s incredibly dangerous.”
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has listed the avalanche danger as “considerable” in the southern San Juan Mountains. Silverton officials fear the historic snow amounts have raised the potential risk for anyone venturing into the mountains.
“The worry is, with all this great powder, everyone and their brother are going to be out there,” said San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir.
Brian Lazar, deputy director for CAIC, said the continuous snowfall in recent weeks has loaded up avalanche paths. As a result, when avalanches occur, they are big.
“These are not the type of avalanches you walk away from with a close call,” he said. “For people out there skiing, the threat is, if you end up triggering one of these avalanches, you are unlikely to survive.”
San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad said he has jurisdiction to shut down public lands if it is a safety issue. However, at this time, he is opting to instead hope people take the stern warning to stay out of the backcountry while it remains avalanche prone.
A spokeswoman with U.S. Forest Service said the agency does not typically close public lands because of avalanche danger. The Bureau of Land Management did not respond to requests for comment.
Gallegos said Thursday crews will not trigger avalanches on Kendall Mountain that have the potential of reaching the town of Silverton for liability and safety reasons.
The blasting would have been a preemptive step to lessen the danger and bring snow down in a relatively controlled manner.
Two avalanche paths – the Idaho and Rabbit Ears – present risks to several homes on the east side of town.
A naturally triggered avalanche on the Idaho path reached the Animas River last week, Fetchenheir said. But storms this week put another 2 or 3 feet of snow in the mountains, renewing the fear of a slide.
Though blasting is not planned as of now, conditions could change and warrant the action, Gallegos said.
In the meantime, town officials are warning of avalanche danger, even around the perimeter of Silverton.
Roof avalanches, as well as damage to propane tank systems, are also dangers to be considered, officials said.
Silverton Mountain, on County Road 110, has suspended operations after a slide recently cut off access to the ski area.
On Wednesday, another slide ran across County Road 2, almost reaching an industrial park, Fetchenheir said.