Opening Trail Ridge Road

The following Fun Fact was originally published on May 19, 2003.

The annual effort to open Trail Ridge Road across Rocky Mountain National Park to traffic is well underway. Trail Ridge Road plowing operations started in April. Of course, spring storms and squalls can bring snow to already plowed areas, causing operators to re-plow some areas, some years many times over. During the May 3, 2003 weekend, 14 foot high drifts blew back on the road in one area! According to Park Roads Supervisor Chuck Stalker, plowed roads act like snow fences to accumulate blowing and drifting snows.

Last week, east side plow operators were to Lava Cliffs. In early May drifts at Rock Cut were up to 22 feet deep, which is higher than the rotary plows! On the west side, plows were to Medicine Bow Curve in early May. Drifts on the high side of Milner Pass were eight to nine feet.

How do we plow through a 22 foot deep snowdrift? The park has a machine with a rotary attached to an arm to move snow. The rotary is lifted to a point near the top of the drift and engaged. It throws snow several feet out of the hole it creates as it moves down through the whole snowdrift. Once it reaches the road pavement, the whole machine is moved forward for another "bite."

The annual target date for opening Trail Ridge Road is always Memorial Day weekend, and, barring weather problems, we should make it by about May 23 this year.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517


(970) 586-1206
Through winter, the Information Office is open 8:00 am–4:30 pm Mon–Fri. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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