Early-season storm closes Vail Pass, drops as much as a foot of snow in places | VailDaily.com

Early-season storm closes Vail Pass, drops as much as a foot of snow in places

EAGLE COUNTY — The season's first blast of winter weather hit hard in the upper elevations Sunday, Oct. 1, snarling traffic and closing Interstate 70 over Vail Pass for most of the night.

Tracy Trulove, of the Colorado Department of Transportation's Glenwood Springs office, said the interstate was shutdown for most of the overnight period, due to accidents and safety closures that allow equipment to clear the highways.

The town of Vail and the local chapter of the Salvation Army opened traveler shelters at both Town Hall and at the Vail Interfaith Chapel, serving 62 motorists trapped by the snow.

Those caught in the storm on the pass faced blowing snow, icy roads and near-whiteout conditions. Trulove said the Colorado State Patrol reported 16 contacts between 8 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Monday, Oct. 2. Those contacts included accidents, stuck vehicles and other calls for assistance.

Plow trucks were out

Motorists who needed help also called local tow companies. At West Vail Shell, Dan Flores reported that company's drivers pulled eight drivers out of trouble overnight.

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While the storm was still dropping snow, a total of 14 plow trucks were on the pass. Trulove said the trucks weren't all on the highway at the same time, but said drivers were put on snow schedules of 12-hour shifts. CDOT hasn't hired its full complement of seasonal drivers yet, but Trulove said full-time employees have been moving over to winter duties for the past month. In a pinch, CDOT supervisors will take shifts driving plows.

Snow amounts across the region varied from a few inches to much more. Breckenridge reported a foot of new snow, and the snow stake at Blue Sky Basin on Vail Mountain also showed a foot of snow.

While early-season snow isn't particularly rare, storms like the one that hit the high country Sunday and Monday can do damage elsewhere. Some landscaping in Vail was hard-hit. Residents reported a number of fallen trees, and the town's public works department will help residents who have trees blocking private driveways and entrances.

The first storm of the season also brought the first reminders about winter travel from CDOT officials.

Good tires are a must, of course. Farrow Hitt at Bill's Point S Service in Eagle-Vail reported the shop Monday was swamped with snow tire sales and change-overs.

Snow tires are required for all passenger vehicles — with the exception of four- or all-wheel-drive — whenever the state's traction law or passenger chain law are declared.

Those laws depend on conditions and will be posted on the variable-message signs along the interstate corridor.

Police don't check motorists' tires when the laws are in place — unless a motorist goes off the road or causes an accident. If a vehicle with inadequate tires requires a police response, then add-on tickets can range from $130 to more than $650.

No more CDOT app

Besides the signs along the interstate, Trulove said motorists can check conditions on Twitter or via http://www.cotrip.org. There's still an app, but Trulove said that's largely been phased out.

Trulove said more people are following the CDOT Twitter feed these days, although followers often don't like the news that feed has.

While good sources of information exist, Trulove offered some standard winter advice:

• Stick a quarter in your tires. If the tread covers any part of George Washington's head, your tires are fine.

• Be ready for winter travel. Carry a couple of blankets, a flashlight and some non-perishable food in case you do get stuck.

• Keep the gas tank at least half-full. The weight of the fuel can provide traction. If you get stuck, then you can stay warm by running the engine periodically.

• If you do get stuck, then stay with your vehicle. Run the engine periodically and wait for help.

• Slow down in inclement weather, and remember: Four-wheel-drive is great for starting out but no help at all when it comes to slowing down.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

Four facts

• Colorado State Patrol responded to 16 calls for help on Vail Pass between 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, and 8 a.m. Monday, Oct. 2.

• The town of Vail and the local Salvation Army opened traveler shelters at Vail Town Hall and the Vail Interfaith Chapel, serving a total of 62 stranded motorists.

• If you need help in Vail with fallen trees blocking driveways, call Charlie Turnbull, 970-390-3008 or Sam Sandoval, 970-376-2597.

• The National Weather Service predicts clear skies and warming temperatures for the rest of this week.

Sources: Town of Vail, Colorado Department of Transportation

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