Storm closes pass, dumps snow up top
Eastbound Vail Pass was closed at 4 p.m. Saturday because of numerous stalled and stuck vehicles that brought traffic to a standstill four miles east of East Vail.
One motorist who had traveled from Vail said the driving conditions were not that bad but the driving behavior of other drivers made it dicey.
“Don’t go up there (Vail Pass) if you don’t have to,” said motorist Lisa Fisher of Martha’s Vineyard, who was headed to a winter job in Aspen. “It’s not pretty.”
Fisher and traveling companion Tommy Reynolds, also of Martha’s Vineyard, reported there were three separate “parking lots” of vehicles stuck on the east side of Vail Pass. They said two-wheel drive vehicles were getting stuck, causing the traffic to back up behind them.
Winter storm warnings for the mountains called for up to three feet of snow, but that hadn’t materialized by Saturday evening. The largest accumulation reported was approximately 20 inches atop 11,300 foot Fremont Pass near Climax.
Snowpacked roads on Interstate 70 started at West Vail Saturday, while most of the rest of the county experienced wet roads. Vail was under an accident alert due to the number of fender benders and vehicles that had slid off the road.
But the higher elevation roads such as Vail Pass provided the most driving challenges.
Truckers were under a mandatory chain law on the west side of Vail Pass, and the chain up area of East Vail was full of the big rigs.
The Colorado Department of Transportation had five snowplows on Vail Pass and an additional five on Highway 6 and 24 for Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass, said Paul DeJulio, area maintenance supervisor for the Department of Transportation.
The short-term forecast from the National Weather Service is for the snow to taper off Saturday night but for it to increase Sunday afternoon and then taper off Monday.
For most of Friday night and for parts of Saturday rain fell from Avon westward through the lower elevations of the county. As temperatures cooled toward evening that rain became snow.
“This is one of the stronger storms we’ve seen this year,” said meteorologist Dave Nadler of the National Weather Service. “There won’t be a major cold snap because this is a warm Pacific air mass. There will be another pulse of energy coming in Sunday afternoon.”
The storm caused high surf of up to 35 feet that pounded the coast near San Francisco and up to 2 inches of rain that hit the parched Los Angeles basin.
The snow is welcome in drought-stricken Eagle County too. Lawn watering restrictions were in place for most of the summer after significantly below normal precipitation and higher-than normal temperatures impacted water supplies.
Area streams and rivers were flowing at record low levels, that in some cases were 25 percent of normal. The drought has been followed by higher than normal rain and snow this fall. Snowpack in the Colorado River Drainage is now 130 percent or more of normal.
The heavy snow hit during the final regular big-game hunting season, making access to some areas of the back country tougher than normal, said the Division of Wildlife’s Bill Heicher.
But the mixed blessing of the snow is most welcomed by the county’s two ski resorts.
Vail Mountain has more snow on it now than has ever been recorded in its 40 year history, said spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga. Nearly five feet of settled base had accumulated atop Vail and Beaver Creek by Saturday night.
That snow will allow Vail to open Nov. 16, a week earlier than scheduled.
“We’ll have the most terrain open ever for season opening,” she said.
That snow has also helped the ski reservation lines ring. In the last Vail Resorts quarterly report released Oct. 29, CEO Adam Aron said things are beginning to look up.
“The metrics we track in order to monitor how we’re doing compared to
prior years are encouraging,” he wrote. “Year to date bookings (which are from August through October 26th) into our central reservations are up 23 percent compared to this time last year, including a 115 percent increase in on-line bookings.
“September bookings for the ski season were up 77 percent and October bookings are up 29 percent so far. Of course, last year bookings in September and October were anemic, but we’re still glad to see the increases.”
But like last year, many people are waiting before committing to a vacation.
Aron says that’s reason to be optimistic.
“That tells us that the booking curve continues to be late as it was last year and we should therefore expect more late booking activity closer to ski season,” he said.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or firstname.lastname@example.org