Heavy snows delay Trail Ridge Road opening for Memorial Day weekend
May 25, 2011
GRAND LAKE – Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park will not be ready for its traditional Memorial Day Weekend opening this year.
The amount of winter snowpack that faced park snowplow operators when plowing began, combined with recent storms, have hampered park snowplowing efforts, according to Park officials.
Last week’s snowstorm alone produced 17-foot drifts above Rainbow Curve on the east side of the park. In fact, there is more snow along that section of road now than there was on May 5, officials said.
Park plow operators on the west side of the park are dealing with significant snow accumulation, drifting and rockslides. Longtime park snowplow operators indicate this is the most snow they have encountered this late in the season in almost 30 years.
“With twice the normal snowpack, we are facing one of the most challenging years for opening Trail Ridge Road in recent memory,” said Vaughn Baker, Park superintendent. “If we can get the weather to cooperate, we hope to have Trail Ridge Road open by early June.”
Trail Ridge Road historically opens on Memorial Day weekend; last year the road opened on May 28. The latest the road has opened in the past 20 years was June 4, 1994. The latest the road has ever opened was June 26, 1943.
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, climbing to 12,183 feet and connecting the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake.
Trail Ridge Road officially closed for the season last year on Oct. 29; however, it never reopened after Oct. 22.
Park staff expect a busy Memorial Day Weekend. The three reservation campgrounds in the park are full on Saturday and Sunday.
From lower elevations the mountain peaks look majestic with blankets of snow similar to those seen in mid-winter.
The park’s backcountry still looks and feels like winter above 9,000 feet, according to officials.
As of Tuesday, snowpack around Bear Lake stood at 67 inches (29 inches of water equivalent) on the east side, with 114 inches of snow at Lake Irene near Milner Pass (44 inches of water equivalent) and 55 inches of snow at Wild Basin near Ouzel Falls (24 inches of water equivalent).
Visitors planning to recreate in the park’s backcountry should be prepared for heavy/wet snow, slush and ice. Meanwhile, avalanche danger remains a concern, and backcountry users should expect to encounter conditions that present hazards and risks not typically encountered this time of year, such as steep snow slopes, thin ice over water, snow cornices, snow bridges over moving water, and fast-moving streams.
For additional information about Rocky Mountain National Park call 970-586-1206 or check the Park website at http://www.nps.gov/romo.