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S'no go for some Utah passes

Fierce winter will keep 4 mountain roads closed after Memorial Day

Published: Thursday, May 19 2005 10:35 a.m. MDT

Only four of the state's eight closed mountain passes will be open by Memorial Day weekend because of the heavy winter snowfall.

That will be the case even though the Utah Department of Transportation has a $340,000 snowblower that can throw snow 150 feet and uncover a mountain pass buried under 20 feet of snow.

The "Little Giant," one of the largest snowblowers in existence, "eats 15-foot snowdrifts for breakfast," according to UDOT spokesman Brent Wilhite.

But the fury of winter has been too much for even the Little Giant to handle. Several passes that are typically open by Memorial Day weekend still are packed with 20 feet of snow and will remain closed until sometime in June.

Here is a look at the status of Utah's mountain-pass highways:

Closed on Memorial Day:

• Guardsman Pass, U-190, seven miles, between the upper portion of Big Cottonwood Canyon (at Brighton Ski Resort) and Heber.

"There's too much snow, and it's cost prohibitive to do it right now," Wilhite said of clearing the road.

• Mirror Lake Highway, U-150, in Summit County, north into Wyoming and south to Kamas. The peak areas (34 miles) of the 55-mile highway will remain closed.

• U-153, 19 miles from Elk Meadow to Junction in Piute County. In addition to battling heavy snowfall, crews are working to eliminate the possibility of rock slides there.

• U-148 into Cedar Breaks National Monument. UDOT is responsible only for the first two miles of the road and monument officials must take care of the remaining two miles.

"We understand they have 30- to 40-foot drifts north of the Cedar Breaks Visitors Center, so they probably won't be attempting that until mid-June," Wilhite said.

Open by Memorial Day:

• Monte Cristo Pass, U-39, 31 miles, accessed through Ogden Canyon, east of Huntsville.

• Big Mountain Pass in East Canyon, U-65, 11 miles, accessed from Parleys Canyon north of I-80 and connecting with I-84.

"That one will probably be open the soonest because there isn't too much snow there, it's just that we've been cleaning some stuff from the shoulders," Wilhite said.

• Alpine Loop, U-92, in American Fork Canyon, eight miles stretching from U-189 in Provo Canyon to Alpine.

• Wolf Creek Pass, U-35, through Wasatch and Duchesne counties.

With the exception of folks who might have planned a trip to Cedar Breaks, the continued closure of four mountain passes should not affect many Utahns' holiday plans.

"Especially if there is 10 feet of snow in a mountain pass, you're not going to be sitting at the picnic table or camping out at one of the campsites," Wilhite said. "There's going to be 10 feet of snow underneath you before you get to the picnic table or campground areas."

But UDOT does plan to have all eight passes open as soon as possible.

Cedar Breaks might present the biggest challenge.

"In southern Utah, they've seen 300 percent of normal (snowfall) and, for example . . . of the 150 inches of snow that are there (at Cedar Breaks) now, there's 70 inches of water," Wilhite said.

"So, it's heavy, packed snow. And as the temperature warms up and drops overnight, that water freezes. It's like trying to snow-blow through an ice block."

It's even too much for the Little Giant, which will remain stationed in UDOT's northern zone, known as Region I, working primarily on the Monte Cristo Pass.

The 5-year-old machine removes 4,000 tons of snow per hour and takes only a few hours to accomplish what a full team of bulldozers, graders, front-end loaders and other heavy machinery would need several days to clear.

"It's one of UDOT's best investments," Wilhite said. "It's a huge cost savings in labor and equipment. It used to take eight people running heavy equipment, and now it requires three people."


E-mail: zman@desnews.com

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