A snowstorm that pushed into Southwest Colorado on Thursday night strengthened Friday, creating chaotic conditions on mountain passes and forcing several road closures.
As the storm reached near-whiteout conditions Friday afternoon, high-country roads became snowpacked, and authorities responded to multiple roll-offs and crashes.
About noon Friday, a driver became stuck after trying to cross a stretch of Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 that had become buried in nearly 3 feet of snow. The Colorado Department of Transportation sent rescue crews to the scene, then corrected an earlier report that said the car had tried to drive through the path of an avalanche.
CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes attributed the incident to a deteriorating snowbank that deposited snow on the highway.
CDOT crews removed the vehicle from the snow, which was near the Eagle Slide Path around mile marker 79 on the south side of Red Mountain Pass, about 9 miles north of Silverton.
Schwantes said Friday she did not know whether anyone was injured.
Vance Kelso, CDOT’s supervisor for maintenance on Red Mountain Pass, said drivers should never attempt to drive through snowslides or snowbanks.
“Snow hardens, and it is impossible to drive through,” he said. “Your vehicle will get stuck.”
Shortly after the incident, CDOT closed Red Mountain Pass between mile marker 71 near Silverton and mile marker 91 near Ouray because of adverse conditions and “intensifying” snow at high elevations. Schwantes said there was no estimated time for the highway to reopen.
Because of high avalanche danger, road crews will conduct mitigation work on the Highway 550 mountain corridor Saturday morning. Drivers can expect delays on Coal Bank and Molas passes, and Red Mountain Pass if it reopens.
Drivers also should note that the high avalanche danger may call for possible avalanche control operations on other area passes, including Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 160 and Lizard Head Pass on Colorado Highway 145.
“These possible operations will cause lengthy delays,” Schwantes said.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center on Friday issued an avalanche watch for the southern San Juan Mountains.
“Dangerous avalanche conditions are developing,” the center wrote in its advisory. “Today is not the day to get very adventurous and step into terrain for the first time, despite the lack of recent avalanche activity.”
Southwest Colorado’s ski mountains benefited from the storm. Both Purgatory Resort and Wolf Creek Ski area reported about 7 inches of new snow as of 2 p.m. Friday.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction forecast a chance of snow until Saturday night. The storm was expected to move out of the region by Sunday.