Clear Creek County announced on Nov. 28 the closure of Guanella Pass Scenic Byway for the winter season.
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1. First aid kit
2. Map and compass
3. Pocket knife
4. Matches/fire starter
6. Flashlight/light source
7. Warm/rain clothing
8. Emergency food
9. Emergency water
10. Sunglasses/sun protection
The gates to the road closed early on Nov. 28, after a sweep of the summit parking lots and surrounding areas. According to a press release from the county, the pass is also inaccessible from the Park County side. Officials expect the byway to reopen for Memorial Day weekend in May 2023.
Dispersed camping along the pass is prohibited until reopening. There are multiple areas still open for winter recreation, including the Silver Dale Recreation Area and Leavenworth Creek Road.
Karl Schell is the head of Road and Bridge for Clear Creek County. He said that Thanksgiving weekend has been the usual yearly closure date for some time now, both for budgetary and safety reasons.
“We do have a pretty substantial avalanche zone on the pass,” he said.
Schell explained that plowing the pass and keeping it clear would take a lot of manpower the county simply doesn’t have right now. He also said the seasonal closure can be considered a wildlife closure, giving animals a break from the usual pass traffic.
Dale Atkins is a longtime member of Alpine Rescue Team who knows the history of the area.
“It used to be open year-round,” Atkins said. “It used to be open because there was a ski area on the Park County side.”
The ski area was Geneva Basin, which was operational until 1984. Records show the ski area was built during a time of expanding interest in the sport.
In the present day, the lack of homes or a ski area up the pass makes it unnecessary to keep open and plowed during the winter months, a job that is dangerous to plow operators due to the avalanche-prone area.
Atkins said the closure of the pass makes a huge difference in safety.
“By closing it there, it basically removes 99% of the avalanche danger that affects the road,” he said.
With the pass closed to cars, the dangers of the area remain only to those who venture up into the area to backcountry ski, snowshoe, cross country ski and other similar activities.
Atkins reminded winter adventurers to “be searchable,” as in carrying an avalanche receiver and bringing gear to help in an emergency (phone, whistle, warm clothes).
"It's really important to let someone know where you’re going, when you’re gonna be back, where you parked and even what kind of vehicle you have. License plate number is even better,” Atkins said.
Check out tips from the Alpine Rescue Team on being outside this winter, including the team's Back-Country Survival Guide.
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