Travelers itching to see road open |

Travelers itching to see road open

SUMMIT COUNTY – CDOT officials announced plans to reopen both directions of Interstate 70 late Thursday night and said, despite continued snows, they hoped to keep it open. At press time, however, it was unclear whether or not they would be able to open the road as planned.

The highway closed between Summit County and the outskirts of Denver Tuesday evening. Highway officials had originally predicted the road would reopen Thursday morning, but those plans changed when a massive avalanche spilled across all four lanes of the interstate near Bakerville in Clear Creek County.

CDOT workers dropped charges from helicopters onto ridges along I-70 east of the Eisenhower Tunnel Thursday afternoon, trying to trigger avalanches and clear the corridor of potential danger.

“They’re bringing down so much snow,” CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said.

Highway officials did open both direction of the interstate for two hours Thursday afternoon in an effort to get some stranded travelers home and trucks back on the highway.

Pilot cars escorted the two hours’ worth of traffic along I-70 between Silverthorne and Denver, ensuring speeds stayed low and the chances of accidents stayed low with them, Stegman said.

Highway officials shut the highway back down at 6:30 p.m., and it was not clear for several more hours when the highway would reopen.

Snowplow drivers planned to plow throughout the night while other CDOT workers continued avalanche control work. Although forecasts didn’t predict the same volume of snow as fell during the week’s earlier snowstorms, snow showers had resumed in Summit County Thursday evening.

Avalanche danger was rated “high” in Summit County and “extreme” along the Front Range Thursday. Avalanche forecasters advised against backcountry travel.

“This was an exceptional storm, and that means exceptional and unusual avalanches can be expected,” the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s Dale Atkins said.

The avalanche near Bakerville, located between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Silver Plume, was 9 feet deep and 200 yards long. A CDOT employee saw trees in the slide with trunks more than 8 inches around. Fearful that the CDOT-triggered avalanches could threaten the few homes in the area, state highway workers asked the people who live in homes between Silver Plume and Bakerville to evacuate while the work continued.

Ready to leave

I-70 wasn’t the only way people tried – and failed – to escape the county. Traffic between Frisco and Breckenridge was bumper-to-bumper Thursday afternoon as snowbound visitors tried to exit the mountains via Hoosier Pass. Around 2:30 p.m., however, a jackknifed semi forced the route to close temporarily. The highway remained closed well into the evening, and though a state patrol dispatcher said the highway would re-open, she said it was “not recommended for travel” because of the weather.

Meanwhile, people who have been stranded in Summit County since their travel plans were thwarted Tuesday were getting restless.

“I’m really ready to go home,” said 17-year-old Cara Symes, an Oklahoma City highschooler who came to Summit County to ski with her church youth group. The group was headed home Tuesday when the interstate closed. The entire busload of church members stayed Tuesday and Wednesday at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, the designated American Red Cross emergency shelter. “This is our spring break, and we have to be stuck here. But if we had to be stuck someplace, we might as well be stuck here,” Symes said.

Mike Harris, a parent chaperoning the church youth group, said he’d missed a critical meeting at his high-tech company. Harris said he was ready to go home, but he wasn’t complaining. In fact, he said, the church group wants to book the Silverthorne Recreation Center next time it comes to Summit County.

“This is better than a hotel,” he said. “Even if we had to pay, I’d still stay here. We bought day passes, the kids played games – it’s a great place. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The Red Cross brought in cots for the dozens of travelers who stayed at the rec center, and locals donated so much food that no one was complaining of hunger.

Later in the day, however, the church group members packed up the bus and hit the road, planning to travel over Fremont Pass to Leadville, down to Colorado Springs and then east to Oklahoma City.

Other people parked as close as possible to the gates that blocked access to the interstate, determined to be the first in line when the road re-opened. They couldn’t stay, however. Colorado State Patrol (CSP) officers shooed them along.

“I’ve been sitting here all morning watching them play leap frog,” said CSP spokeswoman Linda Clark, whose office overlooks the Silverthorne I-70 eastbound on-ramp. “Someone would leave, and someone else would see the spot up front and go up. We’ve had two (CSP) cars sitting here all morning, telling them, “You cannot sit here.’ It’s just creating a backup. They could be sitting there for another day. We just don’t know.

“You can’t blame them. The poor people can’t go anywhere.”

And not just because of road closures. Kinston, N.C., resident Tracey Williams’ car broke down just as the snow started to fly. She said Thursday she could be stranded in Summit County for days because the auto parts stores are out of hoses.

“I didn’t know Colorado was like this,” she said of the snow. “And everything is booked. I was crying. I thought we were going to have to spend the night in the car, and it was so cold.”

A man named Adolf secured Williams and her friend, Carla Mills, a condominium and provided them with food, she said. The two hope to rent a car to get home and return to retrieve Williams’ car later.

“I know God sent him,” she said. “He was an angel. But I’ve got to get home and get ready for work.”

Mills agreed. “It’s awful,” she said. “I’m sick of seeing snow, I’m sick of seeing mountains, I’m sick of it all. I just want to go home.”

Even as CDOT made plans to reopen I-70, Stegman advised people to sit tight for just a while longer because traffic will be thick and slow.

“The semi traffic is going to be so significant,” she said. “If I were there, I would stay.”

Jane Stebbins and Abigail Eagye contributed to this report.

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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