Winter storm wakes up the High Country
SUMMIT COUNTY – The early risers had it best. The late-risers still found some powder stashes around Summit County. But those that were on the road at noon and headed to Vail, where the ski area reported 12 inches Saturday morning, well, they were just plain out of luck.
While locals and visitors to Summit County were frolicking knee-deep in the overnight present, those headed west on Interstate 70 were stopped in their tracks.
A snowslide near Vail Pass, in the area known as the Narrows, closed the westbound lanes of the interstate just before noon, backing up traffic from Copper Mountain to Frisco.
Colorado Department of Transportation crews blocked off I-70, diverting traffic down Highway 91 to Leadville, and up Highway 24 through Minturn. It took plows about two hours to break through the two to three feet of snow piled on the asphalt.
“The avalanche potential is high, and crews were doing control work this morning,” said Stacy Stegman, CDOT spokeswoman, who added that no cars were involved in the slide.
Other cars, however, ended up stuck in median snowbanks, keeping state patrol troopers busy all day.
“It’s hard,” Stegman said. “You want to discourage people to travel in conditions like this, but people want to ski pretty bad.”
And want to ski, they did.
A supervisor at the Eisenhower Tunnel reported the peak hourly count for westbound traffic Saturday morning at 2,400 cars. Tunnel staff said traffic was flowing smoothly at the east end of Summit County, but they expected traffic volume to pick up throughout the day as holiday vacationers headed back to Denver.
“The eastbounders are coming already,” CDOT tunnel supervisor John Wilson said at about 2:30 p.m. “I expect the volume to pick up, maybe even with some unhappy people that didn’t get to go to Vail.”
The Vail Pass slide wasn’t the only one in the area Saturday, and avalanche danger was on the rise as snow continued to fall.
Scott Toepfer, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said Saturday afternoon that six or seven natural slides occurred throughout the Eagle and Summit county areas. One near Battle Mountain closed Highway 24 for a short time.
“The avalanche danger will probably go up from this,” Toepfer said. “I’m seeing some interesting slides and trying to weigh whether to call an all-out avalanche warning.”
Toepfer said the storm system responsible for the precipitation – Summit County ski areas reported between five and 10 inches of snow Saturday morning – was the result of airflow from the Pacific Northwest. A pressure trough has been sitting with its axis across the Great Basin and the Southwest.
Summit County wasn’t getting hit nearly as hard as other areas in the state, Toepfer said, citing numerous pass closures throughout the southwestern corner of the state.
“The people in Ophir are putting their beacons on and hiding in the attic,” Toepfer said. “There’s no way in or out of that town.”
Toepfer forecasted the snow would continue through Saturday night into today before dropping temperatures would shut off the powder pipeline. He also said those cold temperatures would store weaknesses in the snowpack, maintaining the avalanche danger for backcountry travel.
But it was all good for the early risers Saturday.
Romney Ames and his wife Jordan, Lakewood residents, crawled out of bed to get on the road to the mountains by 5 a.m. The couple braved traffic and weather to head to Copper Mountain, their favorite resort, for their first day on the mountain together this year.
“We almost turned around, the area near C-470 was so bad,” Romney Ames said. “But this is great. It’ll be a great workout. And the drive home is always much lower stress.”
Denver resident Roger Wilkerson wasn’t taking any chances.
On his first day of the year on the mountain, Wilkerson, too, was looking forward to a workout in the powder stashes at Copper Mountain. And he planned on spending all of his energy there.
“I got a room in Dillon,” he said. “It’s going to be a long day.”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or email@example.com.
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