Vail Valley’s first blast of winter results in multiple accidents, road closures
By the numbers
11: Inches of new snow reported overnight at Vail Mountain from Sunday, Nov. 4 to Monday, Nov. 5.
23: Inches of snow at Vail Mountain for the 48 hours ending at 4:45 a.m. Nov. 5.
14: Eagle County alerts reporting various road incidents and closures between Saturday, Nov. 3 and the morning of Nov. 5.
$650: Fine for a road-closing accident caused by a vehicle with inadequate tires.
Sources: Vail Resorts, Eagle County, Colorado Department of Transportation
EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Dave Evridge sounded tired. The first big blast of winter in this part of the Rockies stretched resources thin along this part of the Interstate 70 corridor.
The wintry blast resulted in numerous accidents and several road closures. On the evening of Sunday, Nov. 4, the State Patrol took the unusual step of stopping all vehicles headed eastbound on I-70 to check their tires. No one was turned around, but troopers checked tires and asked those without all-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive or without good snow tires on front-wheel-drive vehicles to wait a while so other vehicles could work the road surface into something more driveable.
That effort was needed because the Colorado Department of Transportation was stretched thin, too. Department spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said the department is still hiring seasonal plow drivers. But, she added, plenty of plows and drivers were available during the storm. The west side of Vail Pass on Sunday saw plenty of snowplows — two trios of plows, one going up, the other going down. Trulove said a third trio was added to the mix during the worst of the Nov. 4 storm. But, she added, high winds of up to 60 mph quickly re-covered the freshly-plowed roads.
U.S. Highway 24 between Minturn and Leadville was also closed for a time on Nov. 4.
The storm dumped a lot of snow in the region. Vail Mountain saw 15 inches of snow in the 24 hours ending at about 4:45 a.m. on Nov. 5, and 23 inches for the 48-hour period.
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Independence Pass between Leadville and Aspen was closed, too, thanks to about a foot of new snow. State officials decided to implement the annual winter-season closure on Nov. 5. Historically, the pass is usually closed by Nov. 7, but in three of the past four years — 2014, 2016 and 2017 — the pass had closed Nov. 12 or later.
‘Scratching our heads’
As conditions returned to normal, Trulove said transportation officials are working to gather data about how many motorists are equipped for winter conditions. Department officials are also pondering how to educate motorists about the need to be prepared.
At the tire-check area in Vail, Evridge said perhaps drivers of 12 out of 30 or so vehicles were told to wait to continue.
After the first wave of motorists were sent over, troopers told those who didn’t have adequate tires to go ahead, if they felt able to drive in the conditions.
But, he added, those drivers were also warned that if they believed they were losing control, to pull over to the right side of the highway.
Spin-outs in the left lane can close the highway for some time. And, Trulove noted, an analysis several years ago estimated that the state loses roughly $1 million in economic activity every time I-70 is closed for an hour.
Both Trulove and Evridge said they were a bit surprised by how many accidents resulted from the weekend storm.
“We have to get people to get serious,” Trulove said, adding that messaging over the weekend encouraged people without proper tires, or who aren’t experienced with winter driving, to delay their travel through the I-70 corridor.
“Why would you risk it? If you know a storm’s coming … stay home.”
That’s not always possible, of course. On the other hand, Evridge said people need to understand that mountain driving can be difficult this time of year.
“We were all scratching our heads the last few days,” Evridge said. “If you’re coming to Colorado in November, you’ve got to have good tires.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2930.