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Old 11-19-2011, 09:00 AM
 
16,189 posts, read 20,219,359 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jazzlover View Post
My advice: 285 north out of New Mexico to CO114 west over Cochetopa Pass, thence west to US50. From there, west to Montrose. The caveats: NO route to Montrose is great under winter driving conditions and NONE of them should be attempted under winter driving conditions by drivers without winter driving experience. It's asking for trouble. Period. CO114 generally has better conditions than Monarch Pass, however, it is not plowed during the night (7 PM-5 AM), so that must be considered. It is also a lonely road in the winter--if having other people around on the road is a requirement to feel comfortable, then CO114 is not the route to take.

I do not recommend US550 in the winter to anyone but the most seasoned mountain winter drivers, based on my experience--I used to drive trucks and trailers over it in both winter and summer on a regular basis. It ain't for flatlanders.

One final note: for some inexplicable reason, November can have days upon days in the Colorado mountains without serious winter weather, but the Thanksgiving weekend seems to get a major winter storm in the mountains at one end of the weekend or the other just about every year. I remember a four-year stretch years ago when I drove in a God-awful mountain winter storm on the Sunday after Thanksgiving every year for that four years. Go figure.

Jazzlover makes a good point regarding Colorado 114 and road maintenance. There are similar roads on the western slope here with signs posted "no snow plow maintenance 7 PM to 5 AM."It's basically state and county rural roads that are going to face this. Like every other state, the states budget is hurting and they are adjusting to it. But if the weather is favorable, Colorado 114 shaves off a fair amount of time here and Cochetopa isn't a bad climb at all, because if you stay on 285 and then go west on 50, you're adding at least an extra hour to the trip and you're also going over an extra pass (Poncha Pass.)
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Old 11-19-2011, 09:59 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DOUBLE H View Post
Jazzlover makes a good point regarding Colorado 114 and road maintenance. There are similar roads on the western slope here with signs posted "no snow plow maintenance 7 PM to 5 AM."It's basically state and county rural roads that are going to face this. Like every other state, the states budget is hurting and they are adjusting to it. But if the weather is favorable, Colorado 114 shaves off a fair amount of time here and Cochetopa isn't a bad climb at all, because if you stay on 285 and then go west on 50, you're adding at least an extra hour to the trip and you're also going over an extra pass (Poncha Pass.)
Driving safely in the Colorado mountains in winter demands winter driving experience and the the ability (also gained from familiarity and experience) to "read" winter storms and road conditions correctly. People who don't drive Colorado mountain roads on a frequent basis in winter often simply lack that experience.

To use the example of CO114: most "route-finding" software ignores it because it is not a major US highway, and will recommend US50 over Monarch Pass. Monarch is higher in elevation, with long sustained grades on both sides--both conducive for rigorous winter driving conditions. On most days in winter weather, Cochetopa will offer better driving conditions. But, here is where experience comes in: Cochetopa has a twisty canyon for a number of miles on its west side that is prone to icy spots even in good winter weather--one has to be aware of that. (Because of that canyon, CDOT banned trucks carrying hazardous loads from CO114 several years ago--the benefit of that is that CO114 sees far less truck traffic, a real plus.) If the wind is blowing, the upper reaches of Cochetopa can experience severe ground blizzarding, even if the weather is clear. I have no reservations about driving CO114 in winter (and I do, regularly), but I know how to read its "moods." I can say the same about nearly every highway route in Colorado because I've been driving them for 40 years. I also have no reservations about modifying my driving route "on the fly," depending on the road and weather conditions. Again, though, that requires experience to make good decisions. Of course, the most important decision to make in a winter storm is knowing when to quit and "hole up" someplace until conditions improve. I'm not ashamed to do that when things get just too treacherous.

PS--One of my all-time worst winter driving experiences occurred years ago on Monarch Pass. Jackknifed semi's everywhere, drifting and blowing snow, numerous car accidents, over 4"-6" inches of snow on the road in places (with so many accidents and stuck semi's, the plows couldn't even work efficiently)--it all added up to misery. I got through unscathed, but a trip from Denver to Gunnison that normally took 3 1/2 hours took 13 1/2 hours that day. Oh, and it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving--one of those in that 4-year string of winter storms on the Sunday after Thanksgiving that I mentioned in my post above.
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Old 11-19-2011, 11:12 AM
 
Location: Western Colorado
41 posts, read 108,805 times
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Thanks for all the info! Keep it coming!
I'm originally from Colorado, and I'll be in a four wheel drive vehicle, for what it's worth. I've been up I-70 in all sorts of weather, and I've been over Berthoud Pass a bunch of times to go skiing at Winter Park. Is Monarch Pass any worse than either of those drives in winter weather?
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Old 11-19-2011, 12:52 PM
 
8,317 posts, read 25,143,563 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by griff09m View Post
Thanks for all the info! Keep it coming!
I'm originally from Colorado, and I'll be in a four wheel drive vehicle, for what it's worth. I've been up I-70 in all sorts of weather, and I've been over Berthoud Pass a bunch of times to go skiing at Winter Park. Is Monarch Pass any worse than either of those drives in winter weather?
I would choose Monarch over either I-70 or Berthoud Pass just because there are not so many winter driving idiots on Monarch. That said, Monarch has sustained 6% and 7% grades on both sides for extended distances. It is no child's play to drive in a winter storm. As DoubleH mentioned, US50 west of Gunnison over Cerro Summit can be very treachorous, as well. Cerro (and the area around Blue Creek Canyon and Blue Mesa Reservoir) is just the right elevation to get a lot of black ice in a winter storm. Because that catches a lot of inexperienced winter drivers by surprise, there are typically a lot of accidents up there in a winter storm. Deer are a real problem on Cerro, as well. Still, it is the preferred route over US550 from Durango to Ouray. US550 is probably one of the most unforgiving highways in America in a winter storm. There is no margin for error for much of its distance from about Durango Mountain Ski Area (which will always be "Purgatory Ski Area" for me) until one reaches Ouray. Steep dropoffs, steep grades, frequent heavy snow conditions, and persistent snowslide danger make it a very hazardous road in winter for everyone--but especially for those who lack the best winter driving skills.

Finally, 4WD or AWD is wonderful for climbing the passes in bad weather, but it doesn't do a damned thing to help when descending. Winter driving "virgins" usually don't know that--that's why you see so many 4WD's and AWD's off the highway or in wrecks in the Colorado mountains when roads are bad in winter.
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Old 11-19-2011, 03:15 PM
 
2,253 posts, read 5,849,218 times
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Wink Playing it safe & scenic

I'll concur with most all the advice here. Of the two, US 50 over Monarch Pass easier than the several passes presented by US 550 between Durango and Ouray.

Or, as mentioned, do seriously consider Cochetopa Pass between Saguache and Gunnison.

Having driven the mountain portions of US 550 in winter, the suggestion only to do so if prepared and willing for some serious winter driving. I recall once in driving towards Silverton near Coal Bank Pass a place where the road curved down and around before heading back up. Only several motorists on the amply snow packed road who had got as far as the lower corner, and then going nowhere fast in trying to get up the appreciable grade. Fortunately one was able to pass them to the left, or also lose all momentum.

On another occasion in the dead of winter all the land and mountain peaks a dazzling white under a near full moon and clear sky. Clear roads as well, although one would always want to watch for unexpected ice. With very little traffic, a magical time and place.

From Montrose you would be close enough to gain a good idea of conditions south to Durango, and then make it in time before any storm blew in. Probably. If doing so, bring your camera. Absolutely fantastic, and without the plethora of tourists found in summer.

But from Amarillo, TX, surely best to play it safe.
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Old 11-20-2011, 09:49 AM
 
178 posts, read 465,285 times
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Be ready to change plans quickly going over Monarch if the weather turns ugly. Road Conditions, Speeds, Travel Times, Traffic Cameras, Live Streaming Traffic Cameras, Road Closures and Road Work Information provided by Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) a branch of Colorado Department of Transportation is helpful but don't trust it 100%. Just because the gate is open at the bottom of the hill just East of Sargents or West of Maysville doesn't mean you should go over. I've turned around a couple of times.
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Old 11-20-2011, 10:26 AM
Status: "Not politically correct" (set 10 days ago)
 
Location: Western Colorado
10,576 posts, read 11,679,485 times
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Now that we've made you scared to death, just check the CDOT driving conditions page, watch your speed, and you'll be ok.
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Old 11-20-2011, 12:46 PM
 
8,317 posts, read 25,143,563 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim9251 View Post
Now that we've made you scared to death, just check the CDOT driving conditions page, watch your speed, and you'll be ok.
Driving safely on mountain roads in winter conditions requires a lot more than "just that." First, the CDOT information is helpful, but it it often several hours out of date. Blindly trusting what it says without observing and understanding weather and road conditions is asking for trouble. Second, "watching your speed" is not nearly enough to drive in winter conditions safely. Things like knowing how to brake properly, correctly steer if a vehicle skids, being able to "read" road conditions visually and by feel, understanding what acceleration and deceleration techniques are safe on slick roads--all of that skill and more is necessary to negotiate winter driving conditions truly safely.

It is possible to drive in Colorado in winter without those skills and not have a problem just like it is possible to play Russian Roulette with a handgun and not necessarily kill yourself. Neither is a game I would play just on the chance of having a safe outcome, however.
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Old 11-20-2011, 03:09 PM
 
16,189 posts, read 20,219,359 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jazzlover View Post
the Thanksgiving weekend seems to get a major winter storm in the mountains at one end of the weekend or the other just about every year.
Agreed. In fact last Thanksgiving was plenty memorable for me. I generally go to Denver for the holidays and Thanksgiving last year didn't give me an opportunity to do that. The day before the weather in the Grand Junction area was cloudy but dry. Denver was windy but in the 50's and dry. In between every mountain pass from Berthoud south to Wolf Creek was either closed or travel was being discouraged as a low pressure system sat directly over the center of the state with the winds blowing hard.
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Old 11-20-2011, 07:24 PM
 
Location: Western Colorado
41 posts, read 108,805 times
Reputation: 115
Okay, well I know how to drive in the snow and ice. I mean you can never be 100% but I have experience. I learned to drive in the Colorado winters, after all.
I'd just rather avoid the nasty stuff if I can, and if I can't then I'd like to take the less intense of the options. I'll definitely be looking into Cochetopa Pass... sounds like that could be the best option if the weather turns for the worst, if I can make it before 7pm.
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