Crashes keep fire, ambulance crews jumping |

Crashes keep fire, ambulance crews jumping

Scott N. Miller
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyA car slowly pokes through heavy snow Wednesday in Eagle.

EAGLE COUNTY – Cars are easy to replace. People aren’t.That thought helped Dave Downing and his family get through what became a very tough afternoon Wednesday. Downing, his wife Krystal and their four children were driving home to Las Vegas from a Christmas trip to Nebraska when they hit foul weather near Eagle.In an instant, Downing lost control of the vehicle, which spun off Interstate 70. Krystal Downing took a bump to the head, but the family appeared to be in good health.The Downings’ car was a total loss, and as the family sat in the training room at the Eagle fire station, Dave Downing took comfort that his wife and kids were all with him.”You can’t replace a life,” Downing said. Late Wednesday afternoon, the Downings were looking at the prospect of renting a car to continue their journey home.The Downings’ accident was one of several in the western Eagle Valley earlier Wednesday as a slick snowstorm began pounding the area. The snow had moved upvalley by late afternoon, causing many more wrecks.

“We’ve been on six calls today, and I know Gypsum’s been on about that many,” said Jon Asper, Eagle fire district chief.Despite the number of accidents, there were few injuries. Of the accidents the Eagle-based firefighters responded to, only two people were transported to Vail Valley Medical Center.While accidents snarled I-70, hundreds of travelers played a waiting game at the Eagle County Regional Airport. Though the airport didn’t closed until Wednesday afternoon, the heavy, lingering snowstorm kept commercial and private aircraft grounded most of the day because of low visibility for both take-offs and landings.”It’s ultimately the pilots’ decision,” said Nathaniel Ruskjer at the airport control tower. “We haven’t had many operations today.”With the airport still technically open, airlines were reluctant to cancel flights, leaving travelers on the ground in a holding pattern of their own.”They haven’t officially canceled our flight, but we just got a rental car. I hope we can get over the pass before that closes,” John Saunders of Kalamazoo, Mich. said. Saunders and his sons had been on a Christmas vacation in Breckenridge, and he said the family would either head to Denver to try to get a flight out or just head back to Summit County for the night.

Travelers weren’t the only ones waiting. Van and cab drivers were caught up in the weather, too.”It’s been a tough day,” said John Wynn, co-owner of Airlink Shuttle. “A lot of it is that airlines don’t cancel flights, so folks don’t know what to do. When the flights are canceled, then we can go to work.”Wednesday was kind of a rare day in the valley, when Eagle and Gypsum got most of the snow and Vail and Avon were mostly high and dry – until the sun went down, which is when the snow began upvalley. Traffic was seen to be backing up along I-70 in Edwards around 5:30 p.m.The reason the storm parked in the western valley most the day was due mainly to the weather pattern, National Weather Service forecaster Jim Daniels said.”Vail tends not to do that well with snowfall with southwestern flows, and that’s what this storm is,” Daniels said. “Vail generally does better with systems coming out of the northwest.”

But when the big snows do come, they’ll usually come from the south, said Avon weather watcher Frank Doll.”The storms when we get feet of snow always come in out of the south,” Doll said. “A big, wet soggy mass out of the Gulf of Mexico will bring significant moisture in.”Snow is expected to continue to fall today and more is forecast for the weekend. Holiday pass restrictions, however, will keep most locals off the slopes until Sunday. Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 613, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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