TWIN LAKES, Colo. (KDVR) — Colorado Department of Transportation is using explosives to help clear snow from Independence Pass ahead of its scheduled reopening at the end of May.  

On Tuesday, CDOT and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, CAIC, paired up for the annual avalanche mitigation effort on the stretch of Highway 83 that connects Twin Lakes and Aspen. The pass is closed each winter due to multiple factors, including the risk of large avalanches. 

“The road runs through the track of the path so it doesn’t take a whole lot of snow rolling down the hill to hit that road,” CAIC Director Ethan Greene said. 

The team uses a helicopter loaded with explosive devices dubbed “turkey bombs” that are dropped on steep slopes above the pass. CDOT says the explosives are much more powerful than they typically use for avalanche mitigation.

“We’re putting anywhere from 22 to 30 pounds of explosive payload per shot,” CDOT’s statewide Avalanche Coordinator Brian Gorsage said. “If we’re gonna pull out all the stops with the helicopter and all the folks it takes to do that, we’re gonna hit this slope with the biggest hammer we got.”

Each explosion is loud and creates a small flash and black puff of smoke meant to disturb the snowpack. They planned to drop 42 charges to trigger between 20 and 30 slides on Independence Pass. 

“We’re hoping that it knocks a whole bunch of snow down the hill,” Greene said. “As that snow moves down the hill it hopefully is moving onto or below the road so reducing the threat to anybody traveling on the road.”

Some of the avalanches triggered on Tuesday left debris piles 20 to 25 feet deep on the roadway.

“This is pretty remarkable to get to see this. I’ve been doing this for 19 winters and to have all of the things it takes for today to happen and to get these really awesome results is pretty remarkable,” Gorsage said. 

CDOT plows will work over the next several days and weeks to clear those debris piles and the 6 feet of snowpack on the rest of the pavement. Independence Pass is scheduled to reopen for the season on Memorial Day weekend.