Business returns to normal with I-70 open |

Business returns to normal with I-70 open

SUMMIT COUNTY – Ski area attendance and other businesses – except tow trucks and snow removal, of course – suffered this week with the closure of Interstate 70. After a slow start on Friday when the highway opened, business approached expected levels Saturday with the return of Front Range skiers hungry for snow.

Travelers and powder-hounds gradually learned the interstate was open Friday morning, and crowds at ski areas were light. At 7 a.m. when I-70 traffic started moving, only 111 vehicles were waiting to come west (275 were in queue to leave the mountains). By 10 a.m., the Eisenhower Tunnel was logging 1,100 westbound cars an hour and traffic counts rose steadily until 7 p.m., tunnel staff said.

The light traffic mirrored short lift-lines at most resorts. One skier reported his surprise at skiing right up to the T-bar on Peak 7 at Breckenridge when he expected a full corral.

Saturday, however, looked more like the typical ski day, said tunnel supervisor Jon Wilson. Wilson said dry roads and sunny skies led 2,000 cars an hour to travel into the mountains.

“It’s back to kind of normal,” Wilson said. “This is what a typical ski day looks like.”

As the week’s snowstorm coughed itself out on Wednesday and Thursday, many resort officials and ski patrollers expected to see Front Range skiers heading to Summit County on the weekend. They hypothesized a pent-up demand and ski areas that had been inaccessible would bring many to the High Country. The prediction was relatively accurate.

Pioneer Sports manager Brenden Petersen said the Frisco and Silverthorne stores had a busy morning renting gear to Front Rangers and business was positive.

Christy Sports Dillon store assistant manager Sonja Tantillo described Saturday morning as “a mass migration.” Tantillo, a Silver Plume resident, was marooned at home for three days. She said neighbors gathered at each other’s houses sharing meals and company. Tantillo was glad to be back at work.

“It was car after car, and there were a lot of out-of-staters, too,” she said. “And they’ll all be back here when the ski areas close. We’re doing good.”

Loveland Pass remained closed Saturday, but that didn’t stop Arapahoe Basin fans. A ski area staff member said plenty of cars took the long way up through Silverthorne and Keystone to spend a sunny day on A-Basin’s steeps.

Some visitors said they were pleased they didn’t have to wait in long lift lines. Others thought there would be more snow.

“This is the best snow of the season,” said Michelle Green, who flew in Thursday from Little Rock, Ark., to join her husband, Greg. She said her flight took her to Colorado Springs, instead of Denver International Airport. “We don’t have to stand in long lines, either. This isn’t nearly as bad as some place like Park City (Utah).”

J.B. Shepard, of Aurora, and Dan English, of Littleton, waited for I-70 to open to hit Keystone on Saturday. There wasn’t as much snow as they had imagined.

“The parking lot was crowded, but not the slopes,” Shepard said.

Copper Mountain spokesman Ben Friedland said he expected crowds to grow even more once Denver residents dug themselves out of the snow. Friedland said numbers were high at Copper Mountain, but not “over the top.” He guessed that many Front Range residents would like to be skiing, but were more concerned about recovering from the storm.

“You can see the pent-up demand, though,” Friedland said. “It’s nice to do something with snow besides shovel it.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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