High mountain passes still buried in snow
May 19, 2023, 5:09 PM | Updated: 8:03 pm
SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — A year ago, UDOT plow crews were busy clearing high mountain passes of snow in preparation for Memorial Day. This year, there’s still too much snow on those roads. Right now, there’s no estimated date for when those seasonal passes will open.
At the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, the road to Guardsman Pass remains gated and buried under seven feet of snow.
“Right now, because of the record snowfall, there’s still 25 feet of snow in certain areas,” John Gleason, UDOT Communications Director said.
On the last switchback before the pass, there’s still as much as 30 feet of snow on the road, he said. That’s where we caught up with the crews that were plowing to get the pass open a year ago.
It’s the same story on Mirror Lake Highway, Monte Cristo Pass, East Canyon, and Wolf Creek Pass.
“For all of our seasonal routes, right now, we don’t have any of them open,” Gleason said. “Typically we’ll try to open them around Memorial Day weekend holiday because people like to get up there and enjoy themselves, camp, or just drive through.”
Besides, those plow drivers are busy with more important jobs right now.
“The same crews that are responsible for clearing those seasonal passes are the ones that are doing the flood mitigation right now,” Gleason said. “So, we’re really prioritizing the work.”
Those seasonal roads are important, and UDOT will eventually get them cleared, but flood mitigation is a bigger priority right now.
Gary Dastrup was gearing up to take the trail over the ridge to Mill Creek Canyon.
“It’s just another excuse to play in the snow when it’s May,” he said. “Usually, this time of year you can ride your bike over there. I knew there was no bike riding, so we got the snow shoes.”
Most years by mid-May, Dastrup said he would be mountain biking, not snowshoeing. But he’s excited for his afternoon adventure.
“For me, I’m not in a hurry for it to go,” he said about the snow. “I was actually bummed that it stopped snowing.“
UDOT was not. For them, plowing a corridor through snow drifts 20 feet deep is not practical in terms of time or money.
“Because of the record snowfall, and all of the plowing that we’ve been doing, and now, all of the flood mitigation, our maintenance budget is… We really have to prioritize the work, and do those things that are critical to safety,” Gleason said.
UDOT spent $41 million on plowing this year instead of the $26 million that was allotted.
“It was a very challenging, demanding year for our crews, and we still haven’t hit the end of it yet,” Gleason said.
So, UDOT will wait and let the solar power of the sun do the first part of the job.
“We’re going to continue to look at it and see how quickly the snow melts off, and when we can I get our crews up there to clear it.“