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Crews working to clear mountain passes in Utah

BRIGHTON, Utah – As the weather quickly warms up and more people head into the mountains, the Utah Department of Transportation is digging in to clear the roads over Utah’s high mountain passes.

One of those crews was blowing snow Monday on SR 190, Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, above the town of Brighton. The road which leads over to Park City by way of Guardsman Pass was still packed with deep snow, until this morning.

UDOT crews hope to have mountain passes open for Memorial Day Weekend

“Up here, you’re always going to get a couple feet [of snow], no matter what,” said Tyler Connor, a UDOT Transportation Technician and plow driver.

He’s operating a massive blower that is carving into a snow drift eight-feet-high.

Even on a light snow year, he said, it takes a lot of work with heavy machinery to clear the road over Guardsman Pass.

They use the same equipment to plow Big Cottonwood Canyon Road all winter long, but Monday’s job is different.

“It’s a lot slower. You’ve got to be careful,” he said, eyeing a sharp drop-off from the road.

They’re cutting the first path through snow from the gate near Brighton, up to Guardsman Pass, the border with Wasatch County.

He’s operating one of two massive blowers to send the snow flying 30 feet or more from the road.

UDOT plows the road over Guardsman Pass

“It’s pretty fun,” Connor said.  “This year was pretty light, so it’s not as big as a normal year, but it’s fun [to] operate these things.”

If you’ve ever used a snow blower to clear your driveway, it’s basically the same process. UDOT is simply tackling a bigger job with bigger tools.

“Like a jumbo-sized home snow blower,” said Shawn Wright, another UDOT Transportation Technician who has plowed this road many times in the spring. “It’s always fun. This is what I enjoy doing.”

This year, they’re making quicker work of it, than they would in a year with average snow pack.

“Usually it takes two to three days to clean this up, and we’re almost done in eight hours now,” said Connor.

But even on a year with shallow snow pack, the area up near Guardsman Pass always gets its share. They carved through several snow drifts at least eight feet deep covering the road. They said the snow was twice as deep last year.

“On a normal snow year the ’25 mile an hour’ sign there.. that’s usually buried,” said Wright, pointing to a speed limit sign at the pass.

When they plowed up here last year, it was five feet under snow. This year, it’s exposed.

“Definitely a low snow year,” said Wright.  “But, at least we still have some pretty good snow pack up here.”

The biggest challenge this year: the heat.

“Our machines are used to running in the cold,” said Wright.  “So, we have to take it a little bit slower so they don’t overheat.”

They cut one lane from the gate to Guardsman Pass, today and plan to widen the lanes and clear the surface to make it ready for public traffic in the next couple of weeks.

“The snow melts off, then we’ll fix whatever repairs need to be done on the road, and hopefully get it open by Memorial Day,” said Wright.

Plow crews are also clearing the pass over Monte Cristo and the Mirror Lake Highway. UDOT expects to have each of the passes open for traffic by Memorial Day weekend.

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