Mild weather conditions paired with light snowpack have resulted in the earliest opening of Imogene Pass in recent history.
San Miguel County equipment operators reached the top of the pass from the Telluride side by early last week, around June 4. “It was pretty easy,” said Mike Kimbel, District Road Supervisor for eastern San Miguel County. “Drifts that are normally 20-25 feet were only 10-15 feet in the deepest sections.”
Ouray County Equipment Operator Dave Leonardi, laboring upward from the more challenging north-facing terrain on the other side, finished his job by Thursday, June 7, and reported that the first travelers of the season made the full trip over the pass later that day.
Imogene Pass, at 13,114 feet, is the second highest mountain pass in Colorado that you can drive over. It is uncommon for the popular route to open before July.
“It’s the earliest that I can remember it ever being open,” said Ouray-based Switzerland of America 4WD tour operator Brandy Ross. “People are very excited. A lot of people change their itinerary as soon as they find out that Imogene Pass is open. We get called at least five times a day to see what trails are open, and Imogene is always the first one they ask about.”
Ross noted that although the premature opening of Imogene Pass has not necessarily impacted the volume of her business, the early accessibility of high country roads in general this year has been a definite bonus.
“There’s been a lot more to do in the early season,” she said. “We had a phenomenal Memorial Day weekend, and the week after that was also great.”
Black Bear Pass is the only major high country route in the region that is not yet open. Currently, it is plowed to the top only on the San Juan County side. A crew from San Miguel County brought its bulldozer over Red Mountain Pass and on up to the top of Black Bear earlier this week, to take a top-down approach to snow removal on the Telluride side.
Black Bear Pass should be open by next week, San Miguel County Road Supervisor Mike Horner said.
Remarkably, in San Juan County, crews had opened the roads to the tops of Ophir Pass and Cinnamon Pass by mid-April. “We had everything open that we open by the 15th of May,” said Mike Maxfield, a San Juan County equipment operator.
In Ouray County, Leonardi has been plowing roads in the high country for a quarter century, and says he’s never seen such mild conditions.
“This is by far the least amount of snow I’ve seen,” he said, noting that he was able to drive his pick-up all the way into lower Yankee Boy Basin in early May without even using a plow. “That’s the first time that’s happened,” he said.
Other routes in Ouray County, including Corkscrew Pass and Red Mountain Town, were equally easy to open up. In all, it only took Leonardi and his crew a month to open up all of the major 4WD routes in the county. “It usually takes six to eight weeks,” he said. “This is one exceptionally odd year.”