Winter returns – with a vengeance |

Winter returns – with a vengeance

SUMMIT COUNTY – A spring storm dumped 3 feet of snow in parts of the High Country Wednesday night, causing numerous accidents – including one that forced highway officials to close Interstate 70 for hours.

An avalanche on the west side of Loveland Pass forced officials to close Highway 6, as well, preventing a long line of powder-hungry skiers from getting to Arapahoe Basin.

Wednesday evening, the Colorado Department of Transportation put the state chain law in effect for all vehicles on I-70 from Vail Pass to the Eisenhower Tunnel. Later, officials closed eastbound lanes of the interstate from Frisco to the tunnel as drivers slipped through heavy slush in an attempt to get up the steep, slick hill. The chain law remained in effect throughout the night for other portions of the highway.

“Last night the slush was so heavy, cars would go for a little ways and get stuck,” said Linda Clark of the Colorado State Patrol. “It was snowing so hard, the snowplows couldn’t keep up. It’s springtime in the mountains.”

After rescinding the chain law for noncommercial vehicles early Thursday morning, CDOT officials reopened the eastbound lanes of I-70 heading to the tunnel at 10:45 a.m. Almost simultaneously, however, they had to close the highway between Frisco and Vail Pass because of a hazardous materials spill just west of the Copper Mountain exit.

Interstate accidents

Hazardous materials teams and three Lake Dillon fire engine crews spent the majority of the day cleaning up after a gasoline tanker truck crashed near Copper Mountain Resort Thursday morning.

According to Colorado State Patrol reports, the truck was westbound on Interstate 70 when it crashed and rolled near theCopper Mountain exit, spilling gasoline on the road and closing the interstate in both directions, cutting off traffic from Vail Pass. Highway 91 to Leadville also was closed. No one was injured in the accident.

At 11:15, road crews estimated it would take eight hours to clear the wreckage, but by 3:15, a CDOT pilot car was leading vehicles over the pass to Summit County. Additionally, work crews opened one lane of westbound traffic over Vail Pass by late afternoon.

In an unrelated accident Thursday afternoon, authorities had to close several lanes of I-70 to clean up after a fatal accident in Officer’s Gulch.

According to Jeff Berino, assistant fire chief with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, a man driving an SUV was killed when his vehicle rolled onto its roof at 4 p.m.

It took firefighters an hour to extricate the body from the vehicle, and highway officials had to close the two inside lanes of the interstate. Witnesses said the driver was going too fast for the slushy conditions.

Too much of a good thing

According to Colorado Avalanche Information Center weather forecaster Knox Williams, the storm hit the northern Colorado mountains the hardest, leaving 36 inches at Arapahoe Basin, 20 to 30 inches of snow in Steamboat Springs, 12 inches in Fairplay and 19 inches in Winter Park.

A-Basin is the only ski area in Summit County open this late in the season. It had received 36 inches of snow by Thursday morning, bringing the mid-mountain base to a depth of 111 inches.

Skiers and snowboarders, however, couldn’t reach A-Basin after an avalanche Wednesday night spilled across Highway 6 between the ski area and Keystone Ski Resort, forcing officials to close the road from Keystone to the top of Loveland Pass.

Regardless, scores of cars lined up through the heart of Keystone by 9:30 a.m. waiting for crews to clear the highway so they could get to A-Basin to hit the slopes.

Ski area officials hoped to dig out the lift terminals and open the mountain by noon, and employees worked all morning clearing snow from lift lines and doing avalanche control work, but the highway remained closed all day.

On the other side of the pass, Loveland Ski Area employees were turning skiers away late Thursday afternoon because the ski area’s parking lots were full and would-be snowriders were spilling out of the lots and parking on Highway 6.

Other fallout from the snowfall

The storm also knocked out natural gas service in Dillon and Summit Cove, and Summit County schools didn’t begin Thursday until 10 a.m. after Superintendent Wes Smith delayed the start of the school day for two hours. It was the second time this school year inclement weather forced Smith to close or delay school.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, highway crews were reporting that roads were slushy and wet. Forecasters are predicting partly cloudy skies Friday and Saturday with winds of 10 to 20 mph and temperatures ranging from 20 to 50 degrees.

“Now the floods and rock slides ought to be coming,” CSP’s Clark said. “We need all the moisture, but I don’t know if we need it all at once.”

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