Heavy snowfall closes I-70, opens Sun Up Bowl in Vail
By 9:30 a.m. — Chairs 5, 9 open on Vail Mountain
By 1:30 p.m. — I-70 closed Eastbound in Vail
By 4:30 p.m. — 470 people had visited Vail Welcome Center
By 7:30 p.m. — Vail snow stake showing 8 inches since 5 a.m., I-70 fully open
EAGLE COUNTY — While heavy snowfall stranded travelers for hours in Vail on Saturday, Nov. 24, it also brought favorable conditions and more terrain openings to Vail Mountain.
The day started off calm; Vail’s 5 a.m. report showed 2 inches of overnight snow. At 9:15 a.m., guests arriving at the top of the mountain were welcomed with good news; Back Bowl chairs 5 and 9 were running for the first time this season.
By 9:30 a.m., snowfall started to intensify on top of the mountain and on Vail Pass.
Accidents forced the closure of I-70 eastbound in Vail at about 12:45 p.m.
Some travelers attempted to make it around the closure via Highway 24, with no luck.
“There was a huge traffic jam all the way into Minturn,” said Brian Desilets, of Denver. “I kept thinking if only if we hadn’t stopped for lunch we would have made it.”
Desilets had been visiting family in Grand Junction. After waiting for about three hours in the Vail Welcome Center, “Now there’s a new rule — no more cross Continental Divide trips in the winter,” Desilets said.
The interstate was also closed in Summit County, with a 15-car pile-up reported by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Emergency shelters were set up at Summit Middle School and the Silverthorne Recreation Center.
The town of Vail exhibited a high level of efficiency in accommodating the stranded travelers.
Throughout the afternoon, hundreds of people passed through the town’s Vail and Lionshead welcome centers, which offer free wi-fi, up-to-date info on road closures and a comfortable place to pass the time.
Welcome center attendant Mark Christie said 470 people had passed through the doors by 4 p.m.
“Everyone was very understanding,” Christie said. “Most people just accepted the fact that they weren’t getting through.”
Christie said while the Vail Welcome Center will normally close at 5 p.m., he planned on staying until 10 p.m., or the interstate re-opened, which ever came first.
“I’m assuming I’ll be here pretty late,” he said.
In addition to taking in stranded motorists, the welcome centers also accommodated people waiting for transportation services.
Hap Pool, of Vail, was ready to take his first-ever ride on the Bustang, Colorado’s new state-owned-and-operated interregional bus system.
“I hear it’s pretty nice,” Pool said.
With a flight to catch in Denver, however, “That first ride might have to come at a later date,” Pool said.
SNOW PILING UP
Just after 1 p.m., Vail Mountain announced Chair 5 was closed for the day. Chair 9 closed a few minutes later.
“I couldn’t go up there anyway,” said skier Gabriel Gomez. “It’s too much of a blizzard.”
Gomez enjoyed one of the many perks of Vail — gondola service.
By the end of the day, the ticket scanner at Gondola One had his name memorized.
Gomez is a sophomore in the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. He said he picked a great weekend to visit his grandparents in Vail.
“I’m gonna be bragging it up to my friends,” he said. “If I make it back.”
After about a roughly six-hour closure, the interstate reopened at about 6:45 p.m.
David Lesh, the snowmobiler who became infamous over the summer for boasting about sledding in wilderness areas, crash landed his plane in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday.