Powerful winter storm smacks Eagle County, creating accidents on roads and canceling World Cup race at Beaver Creek
Powder hounds rejoice, with more snow in the forecast in the next few days
A powerful winter storm wreaked havoc on Eagle County roads and canceled Friday’s men’s World Cup downhill on the vaunted Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, while local skiers and riders basked in the powder that continued to pile up at local resorts.
Between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m., there were 31 accidents reported to the Colorado State Patrol within Eagle County.
Marc Wentworth, the director of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center, said that almost all of the accidents were minor, and only one led to a road closure. Around 11:30 a.m., an incident involving a semi-truck led to a westbound closure on Interstate 70, which was cleared by 1 p.m.
State Patrol went on accident alert at 1:30 p.m. in response to the high level of incidents. This meant that in cases where nobody was injured and drugs and alcohol were not involved, officers did not respond in person, and drivers were instead directed to fill out an over-the-counter or online crash report.
“For these minor crashes, fender benders, etc., we just have them fill out a report because we don’t want our responders on the roads when it’s like this,” Wentworth said.
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In addition to navigating frequent slips and collisions, cars heading eastbound on I-70 were at a standstill for much of the morning after Vail Pass closed at 9 a.m. due to safety concerns. The interstate opened a few hours later.
The storm brought an average of 5-10 inches of snow to the valley, with Vail Mountain’s snow stake reporting nearly a foot of powder accumulated on its slopes. The heavy precipitation was accompanied by strong winds with the National Weather Service reporting gusts of up to 60 miles per hour at mountain peaks and up to 45 miles per hour in the valley.
The conditions led the Birds of Prey organizing committee to cancel Friday’s men’s downhill race, scheduled to take place at 10:15 a.m., and to close the course and finish area for the remainder of the day while crews of workers toiled to get the track back in shape for the weekend’s races. Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s super-G are still scheduled as planned at 10 a.m.
All of this rapid early-winter activity has heightened avalanche risk in the region. The latest report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center shows that the White River National Forest is currently at a level 3 out of 5 on the avalanche danger scale for terrain near and above treeline, indicating considerable danger in the backcountry.
The area is not currently under avalanche warning — as are other areas in the Western Slope like the Park Range and the Flat Tops — but the center cautions that large avalanches are a risk in current conditions.
“High winds accompanying this storm will continue to build thick slabs on top of the old, faceted November snow,” the center wrote on Dec. 1. “Small avalanches in the new snow can break into the older layers creating a much larger avalanche than you anticipate and avalanches can be triggered from below and far away.”
Looking ahead, Friday’s storm is only the first of three systems expected to hit the county over the next few days. OpenSnow meteorologist Sam Collentine wrote in his forecast that a smaller storm is expected on Saturday afternoon, predicting 1-4 inches of snowfall, followed by a dry day on Sunday before the next big system hits on Monday.
“Sunday might be our only completely dry day for quite some time as we’re between storms,” Collentine wrote in his weekend forecast. “We’ll then be tracking a stronger storm early next week as a healthy slug of moisture and a narrow band of very heavy snow settles in over Colorado. … This is a very good pattern and we should be expecting a lot more terrain to open over the coming 5-10 days.”