Originally Posted by Sheleg
I'm planning to drive from New Mexico to Aspen in January. I've never driven in Colorado in winter and have two questions. First, how are the road conditions and am I crazy to try this drive without 4WD? Second, I know Independence Pass is closed, but Mapquest says I can take 285 to 24 to 70 to 82. Is that right or do I need to go through Denver?
Any thoughts are greatly appreciated and thanks in advance.
Yes, you can take 285 to 24 to 70 to 82 in the winter. You don't necessarily need 4WD, but I've never done it without a 4WD vehicle and all-season tires. I've never needed chains though, and there have been trips where I haven't needed to kick it into 4WD. I would think that, unless you are actually driving while it's dumping so hard that the plows aren't keeping up, you should be fine with a front wheel drive, some good snow tires, and some chains in the trunk.
The road conditions really depend on the weather. I know that's not helping much. If it's clear, you'll probably drive over some snowpacked and sanded stretches, especially on Tennessee Pass north of Leadville; and you could encounter some black ice anywhere along the way. If you happen to be driving during or immediately after a storm...well, my experience is that Colorado generally gets on top of snow removal and road sanding more quickly than does New Mexico.
So, you could run into potential heads-up situations anywhere...or you could just cruise up without a worry....but when I have hit dicey weather, the worst stretches I've encountered have been these:
-- on 285 near San Antonio Peak in far northern NM. It's the High Lonelies out there, and you can get some pretty serious drifting snow during and just after a storm.
-- the 10 or 15 miles south of Leadville on U.S. 24. The elevation is up around 10,000 feet, and the road can have black ice and/or ground blizzards.
-- on 24 heading north out of Leadville towards Minturn. Tennessee Pass is often snowpacked and sometimes icy. Also, U.S. 24 near Gilman is not exactly a cruise-control sort of highway, especially during and just after storms.
-- A couple of stretches of 82 west of Aspen stay in the shadows in the winter and can stay icy most of the time.