EAGLE COUNTY — When Shaun Seales and his family left Denver Monday morning, they didn’t expect to encounter snowy driving conditions on the way to Vail.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Seales, a Denver resident.
Seales’ aim on Monday was to take his parents, in from New York, on a scenic tour of the mountains. In the afternoon, they were able to take a pic from Vail’s classic postcard location at Checkpoint Charlie, with a snow-covered Gore Range in the background.
“With the leaves just now changing, all the greens and yellows and also now the white from the snow, the scenery is really unusual and amazing,” he said. “The late leaf change and the early snow really came together nicely this year.”
Despite snow and sleet conditions at levels above 9,000 feet, the Seales didn’t encounter any driving issues on I-70 — but that wasn’t the case for everyone headed into the valley Monday morning. Vail Pass saw its first winter driving-related closure of the season at 5:45 a.m., when a spin-out involving three semi trucks shut down the interstate for about an hour. The Colorado Department of Transportation put a chain law into effect just after 5 a.m.; one of the trucks involved in the spin out was not chained up but had already passed the sign before the message was up, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.
The second was trying to pass when he wasn’t supposed to and lost a gear, causing the spin out.
Following I-70’s reopening, as the Seales were headed westbound down Vail Pass, passing them in the other direction was Vail snowboarder Andrew Wight, headed up to the 11,000-foot terrain on the far east side of Eagle County, where snow had been accumulating for hours.
Wight said the conditions were better than he was expecting.
“There was, I’d say, 3 to 5 inches of fresh snow up there; we lapped it for about three hours,” he said. “There was a little bit of ground poking through but you could definitely ride on top of the snow and make turns ... it was pretty heavy packing snow, very moldable and there was enough there for us to shape a jump out of.”
Wight said he tries to take full advantage of early conditions whenever possible, and was one of four local residents to camp out at Chair 8 in Lionshead last year and board the first chair on the first day of Vail’s 2012-13 season.
“We came out to Vail Pass and rode the exact same area a couple times last year before Vail opened, but the earliest we could do it then was Oct. 14,” he said. “It was pretty cool to be out so early this season.”
‘Pics of snow covered mountains’
Wight began contemplating heading up to Vail Pass on Sunday, after seeing the trace dusting on the Gore Range that morning. As rainy/snowy conditions persisted that day, the Vail Farmer’s Market was not sharing his enthusiasm.
“I always get excited to see the first snowfall too, but I have to say the bad weather probably made it the worst day yet for the market,” said Mike Grant, owner of Off Piste Sports, a skiwear shop that gets a front-seat view of market traffic from its location on East Meadow Drive.
“Business wise, I’m hoping for an Indian summer,” Grant said. “And so far it seems pretty good, I think the late leaf change could help and we’re hoping for a couple more good farmer’s markets now that it’s been extended into October.”
Nearby at the Sebastian Hotel, General Manager Lance Thompson said bookings have been great this fall.
“We were full every day last week except one,” he said, adding that bookings were at about 80 percent for this weekend.
Thompson said while he doesn’t think it’s necessarily related to the enthusiasm over possibilities for a good snow year, booking are already up for this winter over last.
“But I know getting those pics of the snow-covered mountains up on Facebook doesn’t hurt,” he said. “I was up early this morning checking it out ... very exciting.”