Major snowstorm wreaks havoc along Colorado’s I-70 mountain corridor
Conditions were brutal along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor Friday as one of the season’s worst snowstorms wreaked havoc on roadways throughout the area.
Despite a winter storm warning across Summit County and much of the state, the severity of the storm seemed to catch many travelers off guard as they ventured out to take on the challenging conditions on mountain passes.
The travel impacts began early Friday with closures shutting down areas of I-70 from Vail Pass to the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels and beyond, along with another closure over Loveland Pass on U.S. Highway 6.
Roadways opened and closed throughout the day, but between an onslaught of snowfall, spun-out vehicles and even an avalanche that hit the interstate between Frisco and Copper Mountain, things were messy even when moving.
“Conditions were absolutely as bad as expected,” Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Adrian Bevel said. “We’ve had zero visibility in a lot of spots, we just got done clearing an avalanche, and of course everything with the tunnel and Vail Pass. It’s quite the mess out here.”
Given the conditions, emergency organizations throughout the state — including the Colorado Department of Transportation, Summit Fire & EMS, State Patrol and more — were advising everyone to stay put and not try to make their way from the mountains to the Front Range or vice versa.
“There’s no doubt the conditions are really dangerous with heavy snow and winds,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “We saw a lot of road impacts — stranded motorists, a small avalanche, people sliding off the road — if you’ve got to venture out this weekend, take your time. And if you don’t need to be, you shouldn’t be out in this.”
The Silverthorne Recreation Center opened its doors during the day as a designated warming center for stranded motorists, and the Summit County Animal Shelter opened up as a haven for individuals stuck in the county with a pet. County offices shut down early for the day at around 2:30 p.m.
Headaches for travelers weren’t the only impacts felt by the community due to the weather. Schools throughout the county announced they’d be closed Friday, including campuses with the Summit School District and Colorado Mountain College.
Residents and visitors hoping to take in some of the county’s culture also were disappointed as the storm forced cancellations to Silverthorne’s February First Friday event, Noche de Candela, along with the Ani DiFranco performance at the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center. Both events are expected to be rescheduled.
Even ski areas were having trouble with the conditions, with Loveland Ski Area announcing early Friday morning that it would not open because of high winds.
Recreationists should be on the lookout for potential slides with more snow and wind on the way. The Summit County and Vail region has a high avalanche danger across elevations, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and an avalanche warning is in effect through Saturday morning.
Avalanche conditions also could affect roadways along the Tenmile Canyon. CDOT is advising that motorists do their best not to stop in the area and not to get out of their cars unless absolutely necessary.
While the worst of the storm is expected to pass Friday, officials are urging travelers to continue using caution as more winter weather will be moving in and could create poor conditions for the rest of the weekend, as well.
“We’ll be continually reassessing conditions throughout the weekend, and due to the amount of snow, it’s likely we need to continue doing avalanche work over the weekend, specifically on the I-70 corridor,” CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher said. “Right now, there’s no time we can say that the roads will be safe. We know there’s more snow on the way, and conditions will continue to be challenging.
“There’s no obvious window. We know a lot of people are going to want to go home on Sunday, but if people do attempt that they should be prepared for a very slow trip from the mountains to the Front Range. For now, we recommend if you’re staying in the mountains to stay in the mountains, and if you’re in Denver to stay in Denver.”