Two avalanches tear through Ten Mile Canyon in Summit County on Sunday
The first of two avalanches to rip through Ten Mile Canyon on Sunday left the valley blanketed in a cloud of white dust, almost like a bomb had just exploded.
The heaviest snowfall of an already above-average winter hit Summit County over the weekend and culminated in a pounding on Sunday, and the second slide closed Interstate 70 between Edwards and Frisco.
Colorado State Patrol initially reported that people might have been trapped in the second avalanche. However, an agency spokesman later said that no vehicles were buried and there were no reports of any injuries. Still, the weekend snowstorm left many locals measuring snowfall with yardsticks, transportation officials scrambling to keep up with road closures and fears of an avalanche running high, even before the slides struck the canyon.
“We don’t get a whole lot of snowfalls like this,” said Mark Goldberger, as he swept a thick blanket of snow off his pickup in downtown Frisco.
“This is just as bad as Michigan,” commented another man, Mark Leon, who’s actually from Michigan but was walking down Main Street Frisco underneath the cover of an umbrella.
Summit Schools are closed Monday as a result of the weekend snowstorm, which plagued traffic across the I-70 mountain corridor all day Sunday after the snow began falling Friday, returned Saturday and continued throughout the day into Sunday night.
The March snowstorm led a crowd of skiers and snowboarders to Colorado’s ski areas and resorts in search of powder. And for those who made it, they likely got what they came for.
Coming into Sunday morning, Breckenridge Ski Resort was reporting 15 inches of new snow over the last 24 hours to bring the resort to more than 23 feet for the 2018-19 season.
Likewise, Keystone Resort also had a foot of new snow on the ground before the lifts started running Sunday at the same time that Arapahoe Basin Ski Area was reporting 11 inches of new snow overnight.
Sunday’s snow counts at the resorts won’t be in until 5 a.m. Monday. Still, estimates as of 3 p.m. Sunday had Breckenridge Ski Resort adding 10-11 more inches to its total while Keystone was eyeing another 7 inches or so.
But the snowfall wasn’t all fun and games and prompted the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to issue an avalanche warning for the northern and central mountains before the pair ripped through Ten Mile Canyon.
Sunday’s road-closing avalanche came after another one struck the same area during the morning hours and was captured on video by passersby, including from one of the Summit County Rescue Group’s volunteers, Brandon Ciullo.
“Avalanches come down in Ten Mile with some regularity throughout the winter,” said Charles Pitman, a Rescue Group spokesman, adding that Ciullo’s video only shows how tender the snowpack is right now.
Ciullo was heading west on I-70 to Glenwood Springs for an unrelated vehicle-recovery mission with the rescue group when he saw the avalanche between Frisco and Copper Mountain at about 7:47 a.m.
“It’s not the light, Champagne powder,” Pitman said of the snow. “It’s pretty hefty with a lot of water content so I’m sure — as you’ve probably seen on the CAIC website — there’s significant avalanche danger out in the backcountry right now.”
Ciullo soon posted the video of the first avalanche, which is believed to have been caused naturally, to a popular Facebook forum geared toward Summit County locals and his own personal page with the warning: “Plz share and be safe out there!!”
And Pitman hopes people will listen. Despite having a high number of avalanches in Summit County this winter, he added, there have not been any avalanche-related injuries here this season and he’d like to keep it that way.
“We’ve been very, very lucky,” Pitman said. “Colorado in general is on pace for a banner year as it were — in a negative way — for the people who’ve been caught and the number of fatalities, and this snowstorm that’s hitting the state right now is only going to make conditions worse.”
A lot of people assume that avalanches are only set at the top of a slide, but Pitman said many people don’t understand they can be trigged at the top, bottom or even from the side — all depending on the snowpack.
“When the conditions are this bad, our suggestion is that people take advantage of the snow by going to their favorite ski resort,” he said of one surefire way to play it safe. “I know it’s very enticing for a lot of people to go out and take advantage of this dump, but people really have to be aware of what can happen.”
For a detailed avalanche forecast, go to Colorado.gov/avalanche. Stay up-to-date with road closures by following CDOT’s Twitter account.
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