Interstate closes again for slide, control
SUMMIT COUNTY – This weekend brought mostly sunny skies to much of Colorado, including Summit County, but many motorists felt the aftermath of last week’s snowstorm once more when Interstate 70 was closed Sunday morning.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) closed the highway’s westbound lanes from about 4-6:30 a.m. after a vehicle collided with a CDOT snowplow, said Brian Jordon, CDOT public information officer. The snowplow was clearing snow from the highway left by an avalanche which slid down the mountainside just west of Silver Plume and south of I-70.
The driver of the vehicle was airlifted to a Denver hospital, said Master Trooper Ron Watkins, Colorado State Patrol public information officer. No further details about the accident were available.
Westbound traffic resumed at 6:30 a.m., Jordon said, but motorists still experienced delays as only one lane was open until CDOT cleared the highway of the accident around 7:45 a.m.
The avalanche likely was a result of snowpack stressed by overnight winds, said Nick Logan, associate director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
“It was not a known avalanche path,” Logan said.
Officials believe winds drifted and deposited additional snow on the mountainside, stressing snowpack already frail from last week’s snowstorm. The avalanche – about 700 feet wide – may have slid down more than 2,000 vertical feet of forested mountainside before coming to a stop near the highway, Logan said.
The frontage road was buried under about 20 to 30 feet of snow and trees, he said. The highway also was covered with snow, but not enough to block traffic.
The early-morning avalanche also knocked out power for customers from Silver Plume to the Eisenhower Tunnel – including the tunnel and Loveland Ski Area.
While the tunnel experienced only a brief interruption of power, Loveland and about 13 customers in the area were still without power late Sunday afternoon, according to an cel media services recording. It may be several days before cel is able to restore power to those customers because of complications resulting from the area’s geography and terrain.
The ski area was unable to open Sunday as a result of the power outage, according to Loveland’s spokesperson Kevin Wright. Resort officials hope to reopen the ski area today.
Sunday’s slide was east – and on the opposite side of the highway – of the avalanche that covered the empty interstate Thursday. (I-70 was closed in both directions at the time.) CDOT officials closed the highway again – in both directions – at 9 a.m. Sunday, for one and a half hours as they performed avalanche control work in the Georgetown and Silver Plume areas, Jordon said.
Westbound skiers and boarders might have been discouraged by Sunday morning’s traffic delays, but, they likely will be pleased that CDOT reopened Highway 6/ Loveland Pass – between Loveland and Arapahoe Basin ski areas – Sunday afternoon . That portion of highway hadbeen closed since the early part of the week, when the snowstorm began, Jordon said.
The Highway 6 closure east of Arapahoe Basin didn’t affect the ski area’s business this weekend, said Leigh Hierholzer, A-Basin’s director of marketing.
“We had pretty busy days both days this weekend,” she said.
But the Loveland Pass closure was inconvenient for skiers and riders from the Front Range who had to access the ski area from the west – by way of the Eisenhower Tunnel and Keystone.
Visitor numbers also were high at Copper Mountain – but not overwhelming, said Ben Friedland, Copper Mountain communications manager.
“Anytime the highway is shut it has an impact, because people can’t get to the mountain,” said Beth Jahnigen, Copper Mountain communications coordinator, adding that it’s difficult to determine how the closure might have impacted skier numbers. “The people who did get to the mountains had a great experience – the quintessential spring-skiing day.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or email@example.com.
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