Arapahoe Basin Ski Area closes Tuesday due to avalanche concerns | SummitDaily.com
Kevin Fixler / kfixler@summitdaily.com

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Arapahoe Basin Ski Area closes Tuesday due to avalanche concerns

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area became the third Colorado resort to close this week when it ended operations at approximately 1 p.m. Tuesday due to significant avalanche worries. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) had just shut down Loveland Pass and asked that the ski area follow suit.

After 30 inches of new snow in the last 72 hours, including 15 — and counting — by Tuesday morning, A-Basin confirmed that staff began sweeping the area to request that both guests and employees briskly exit the mountain. Summit Stage buses were soon re-routed to assist with vacating the ski area.

"It's definitely a strange day up here in the High County," said Adrienne Saia Isaac, spokeswoman for A-Basin. "No one remembers a situation quite like this one, where we've closed in the middle of the day."

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The termination of resort operations for the afternoon came on the heels of a spate of roads sealed off along major arteries in and out of the county that stranded countless commuters and commercial vehicles. The closure of Vail Pass, as well as those at Vail and Copper Mountain nearing 3:30 a.m. Tuesday due to a snow slides, started what would become a chain reaction up and down the Interstate 70 mountain corridor.

Approaching 9:45 a.m., CDOT shuttered I-70 both directions from Eisenhower Tunnel to Silverthorne to begin avalanche mitigation work. An hour later, both directions from Georgetown to Silverthorne were also closed for additional reduction efforts that brought down a 150-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep slide west of the tunnel. Crews immediately began cleaning up the area.

"The breadth of this storm and how many locations that are in danger, it's pretty atypical," said Mike Lewis, CDOT's deputy executive director, on a Tuesday afternoon conference call. "If the public is at risk, as much as we hate to do it, we will close, because we don't want to put the public at risk. And with so many slides happening at the same time, that stretched our resources … and led to extended closures in the area."

At 12:45 p.m., I-70 westbound at Copper Mountain mile marker 195 reopened, though Vail eastbound at mile marker 176, remained closed with no estimated time of again accepting vehicles. The closure of Georgetown to Silverthorne was reaffirmed at 1:45 p.m. as well.

Westbound I-70 at Georgetown (mile marker 228) reopened to slower speeds again at 2:50 p.m., and at Silverthorne (mile marker 205) at 3:15 p.m. The highway Vail to Idaho Springs was finally loosened at about 4 p.m., though Loveland stayed blocked off due to major avalanche concerns.

"It's a really unusual event, because of the amount of snow and the water content of that snow, and how it's come in," Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said on the call. "We've had pretty heavy 'precip' in the last 10 days and really significant, really heavy snow fast over last 24 hours."

He added that some regions of the state have received upwards of 3 feet of fresh snow in the last day, with areas taking on 4-to-7 feet since Jan. 1. "That's what's leading to these conditions now," Greene said.

One of which was Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Gunnison County. It became the first ski area casualty of the massive storm after receiving more than 18 inches by midday Monday. The combination of high winds and wet and voluminous snowfall led to the resort calling it quits late in the ski day. A delayed, but rolling opening of three lifts began at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, followed by another 20 minutes later, and finally one more just after 1:30 p.m.

Monarch Mountain in neighboring Chaffee County, which had also collected massive flurries, did not have the same luck. By 7 a.m., with Monarch Pass closed for avalanche control work since the prior afternoon, the ski area called off operations for the day at 7:35 a.m.

"Monarch will not be open today," the ski area posted to its website. "CDOT has closed Monarch Pass, preventing skiers and employees from reaching the mountain."

Monarch ski area asked patrons to stay tuned to its social media feeds for more about possibly flicking the lifts on Wednesday, and CDOT eventually reopened Monarch Pass nearing 1 p.m. Tuesday with the passenger vehicle traction law and commercial chain laws in effect.

A-Basin cut services shortly thereafter to complete the trifecta of ski areas in the state forced to close up shop due to heavy snow the last two days. Loveland Pass was to remain shut down through Wednesday morning, when more slide reduction work will take place. The roadway may then reopen depending on the result, and Arapahoe Basin likely with it.

"We're hoping to resume regular operations tomorrow, pending avalanche mitigation efforts," said Saia Isaac. "Our plan is to operate as planned."