VAIL — Our winter economy is built on snow, but the very thing that draws visitors can, on some weekends, create travel nightmares.
A combination of heavy snow and big crowds Sunday created hours-long delays for eastbound travelers. News reports put the delays from Summit County at six hours or more. Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller had houseguests over the weekend who told him their trip to Denver took more than eight hours.
The weather — along with the inevitable traffic accidents — put a Vail fire crew in mortal danger Sunday. Miller said a crew responding to an accident just a couple of miles from the East Vail interchange wound up in an accident of their own.
DRIVER HITS FIRE TRUCK
Miller said the truck and its crew were blocking the left lane of the interstate to protect an accident scene. Just as the crew was getting out of the truck, a motorist who had passed several stopped cars and trucks slammed into the truck on the driver’s side.
The driver, who was just getting out of the truck, dived back into the vehicle and was unhurt. The truck itself sustained between $15,000 and $20,000 in damage, Miller said, and will be out of service for at least a month. With just one truck in reserve, the loss of a piece of front-line equipment puts the department in a real bind, Miller said.
As conditions, and traffic, worsened into Sunday evening, the Vail Valley Salvation Army opened its travelers shelter at Vail Town Hall. Dan Smith, of the Salvation Army, said a total of 51 people, along with one dog, took advantage of a warm place to while away a few hours. The shelter opened about 9 p.m., and travelers were sent on their way about 1:30 a.m., after traffic had cleared on both Vail Pass and in Summit County.
Smith said it can be hard to talk people into staying at a shelter for a few hours — the urge to try to keep moving is strong, even with a stopped-up interstate. But, he said, it’s far safer for people to seek shelter indoors than wait out an uncertain storm and any number of highway-clogging accidents.
Smith said volunteers from Vail Mountain Rescue the local Episcopal and Lutheran churches helped out, setting up cots and crates for dogs. Volunteers also had water and coffee available for people stuck by the storm.
Besides the shelter, the town’s welcome center at the Lionshead parking structure stayed open until 10:30 p.m., helping travelers find last-minute overnight lodging.