Closed freeway strands drivers in Vail |

Closed freeway strands drivers in Vail

Preston Utley/Vail DailyTruck drivers prepare to put chains on their tires Friday in Vail. Many truckers and other travelers were stuck when Vail Pass was closed for almost 24 hours.

VAIL, Colorado ” Among the dozens of cots at Vail Town Hall, the stranded motorists entertained themselves with books, newspapers and laptops.

“Might as well pass the time doing something,” said Luana Murray of Denver, who had spent Thursday night at the makeshift shelter, as she pieced together a jigsaw puzzle Friday morning.

In parked cars that lined the frontage roads and filled the parking structures, travelers lowered their seatbacks and tried to sleep. If they could sleep.

“Catnaps is what I call it,” said Ty Williams of Durham, N.C., who spent the night in his van in the Vail Village parking structure and was trying to get back to Summit County, the home base for his ski vacation.

All they could do was wait. A windy snowstorm had closed Vail Pass at 2:30 p.m. the day before, turning Interstate 70 into a dead end that stopped at the town of Vail.

Some 170 people stayed in Salvation Army shelters in Vail and Minturn on Thursday night. Hundreds more spent the night in the cars. Tractor-trailers lined the interstate for miles, the truckers bedding down in their cabs.

The pass remained closed for 22 hours, reopening at about 12:40 p.m. Friday.

During the closure, volunteers were bringing “meals ready to eat” and bottled water to truckers, said Dan Smith of the Salvation Army. Another volunteer had trekked up to Vail Pass to aid nine truckers stuck there, Smith said.

A closure of this kind was only natural for the mountains, some said.

“You sort of expect it,” said Terry Wagner, also of Durham, N.C. “It comes along with the territory.”

Even as some stranded travelers took the circumstances in stride, the agitation was plain inside an immobile Greyhound bus at the Vail Transportation Center.

When a visitor appeared, the driver immediately asked how one of his passengers could procure anti-psychotic medication.

For about 20 hours, the dozens of passengers had been sitting in the stuck bus.

“It’s hell,” said Shannon Henderson, who was going from Los Angeles to Lincoln, Neb. “We’re hungry. We’re tired. We can’t even sleep.”

She proudly showed a book of word-search puzzles that she completed during the sleepless night.

“My baby’s crying, and we don’t have no money,” said a woman as she walked down the aisle toting a child.

“I haven’t eaten, I haven’t taken my medicine,” said Jose Bass, clad in an fluorescent orange knit cap and heading from L.A. to Brooklyn, N.Y. ” Two (people) on this bus are crazy. They want to fight me.”

Bass said he was going to lose his job because of the delay. Henderson and two other people said she they’d lose their jobs, too.

Skiers, though, were rejoicing in deep powder on Vail Mountain. Locals ” and visitors who were already in town ” had the mountain to themselves. With the pass closed, the usually flood of Front Range skiers couldn’t get here.

The crowds were relatively light, said local Sherry Dorward as she headed away from the mountain with her skis.

“Oh, yeah, for sure,” she said. “It’s a Friday. Usually on Friday, it’s as crowded as a Saturday.”

Vail reported 12 inches for the day. Some fell during the day Thursday, but Dorward said there were a good 6 inches of untracked snow on Friday. Others reported waist-deep wind drifts.

When the pass reopened, cars, trucks and buses dashed to the interstate, but waited yet again in a massive traffic jam that stretched for miles.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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