VAIL, Colo. (CBS4) – Recent snowfall after a dry start to the season has led to a considerable avalanche risk. That applies to all mountains in the central part of Colorado.
The avalanche danger doesn’t just apply to people in the backcountry. It can also come down on state highways. So on Tuesday Colorado Department of Transportation crews were hard at work keeping things safe for drivers.
CDOT monitors more than 275 known avalanche paths. One area of concern is on Vail Pass near mile marker 186, where steep cliffs meet the shoulder of the road.
The interstate was closed on Tuesday to prohibit that area from still being a threat.
The CBS4 Mountain Newsroom crew caught up with one of the three CDOT teams working on avalanche control in the state this week.
“We shook it up, moved some snow off there. The next storm that comes through, we should be sitting good,” said Jack Stieber, CDOT Equipment Manager.
Last year CDOT responded to 441 avalanches and more than half were triggered by their crews. But this year, it’s been a completely different story.
“This is actually our second mission of the year. We did Grand Mesa on Sunday and we came here today. It’s been a real slow year,” Stieber said.
The team, from Grand Junction, paired with an expert from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. They picked about a dozen danger zones along Interstate 70 making sure the severe avalanche danger didn’t create more problems for drivers.
“Safety is our main goal,” Stieber said. “They have the right to travel on the road in good conditions; we try to make sure nothing happens with them.”
“They’ve got to keep that area safe for everyone to drive on,” said Johnny Lyons, who was stuck on the highway for about 15 minutes while I-70 was closed Tuesday morning.
Lyons, a professional skier who knows a thing or two about avalanches, realizes the dangers right now in the high country.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “Now it’s human triggered. Slides are more likely and that’s what we’re going to be concerned with. It’s very tender out there and that’s what we’re going to investigate to see.”
The major problem is all the new snow that has fallen in the past week is on a very weak, unstable foundation.
Last year CDOT crews spent nearly 8,000 hours on avalanche mitigation.
To find the avalanche forecast for your part of the state and to see the avalanche center’s videos, visit the CAIC website.