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Mountain towners worried about snow

Allen Best
Vail, CO Colorado

OPHIR, Colorado ” Few mountain towns in the West must entertain the prospect of avalanches as seriously as Ophir, a one-time mining town located about 10 miles from Telluride.

Located at 9,678 feet, Ophir is hardly the highest mountain town. Colorado has seven other municipalities higher in elevation, but what other town has a ribbon of open space through its interior, the consequence of a long-ago avalanche?

This winter, with the snowpack in the Telluride region at more than 160 percent of the 30-year average, the slopes near the town have been bombed with explosives to initiate avalanches when there are no cars on the road.

For three out of four weeks during January, town administrator Rebecca Levy was unable to get to the town, because of slides either on the county road leading to the town or on the state highway. She lives at Rico, across Lizard Head Pass.

One of the largest potential slide paths, Spring Gulch, which creates the town’s interior open space, has not been bombed. Because of the potential damage to private property, none of the governmental agencies can afford insurance, let alone find a company willing to write such a policy, says Levy.

There have been other problems as well. One woman had to be rescued from her snow-isolated home because she was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. The problem was caused by snow covering pipes that vented the exhausts from her heater.

The town’s road-maintenance man reportedly quit because of complaints from residents. Among their beefs: vehicles towed for now removal, clearing that was too slow (even if there was no way to leave the town), and the noise of his clearing.

Randy Barnes, the mayor, told The Telluride Watch that the social fabric of the community remains fine, but conceded that the snow “is a challenge for some people.”

“For the most part, life went on,” says Levy of the isolating storms of January. “The town never lost power, and most folks know to keep at least a week’s worth of food on hand.”

CRESTED BUTTE, Colorado ” Snow in Crested Butte this winter is so deep that trash trucks in the alleys are in danger of hitting power lines.

Out in the streets, the snow has compacted to about two feet deep in places. Crews will skim off the snow, but areas dedicated to snow storage are almost at capacity.

But at homes running out of space, pitching it into the street isn’t the answer, either, said town marshal Peter Daniels “You just have to stack it higher; that’s where it has to go,” he explained.

Failure to keep ahead of snow shoveling was illustrated in the painful lesson of the Crested Butte Brewery. Just hours ahead of the Super Bowl, a portion of the roof buckled. Eight to nine feet of snow had been allowed to accumulate. In Gunnison, located 29 miles down-valley, a roof on the library at Western State College

collapsed.

No one was hurt in either case.


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