Colorado highway reopened after avalanche danger strands thousands; Utah snowmobiler hospitalized
DENVER ” Wind-whipped snow and avalanche danger closed the main highway through the Colorado mountains for most of Monday, stranding thousands of travelers as they headed to New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Portions of a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 70 ” the main route between Denver and some of the state’s biggest ski resorts ” were shut down in both directions from around 5 p.m. Sunday until about 4 p.m. Monday.
With no definite word on when they could hit the road again, some faced the prospect of welcoming 2008 on a cot in a school gymnasium.
Liquor stores did a brisk business.
“We’ve definitely seen a rush,” said John Will of Antler’s Discount Liquor in Frisco. “People are coming in complaining that they are stuck” or caught in slow-moving traffic.
Leaha Widrowicz was trying to get back to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with her boyfriend and his mother after a skiing trip but had to spend the night in Frisco, missing their midnight flight from Denver International Airport.
“We’re not even thinking of New Year’s right now,” Widrowicz said. “We are just trying to get home to family.”
High winds piled deep snow into more than two dozen narrow ravines in the mountainsides ” known as avalanche chutes ” raising the danger of deadly avalanches cascading onto I-70. Blowing snow reduced visibility to nearly zero.
Authorities cleared out that snow before letting traffic through again.
Wind gusts at the Eisenhower Tunnel, where the interstate passes under the Continental Divide at 11,000 feet above sea level, reached 70 mph.
The section of the highway that was closed carries as many as 39,000 cars on Sundays during this time of year, officials said.
Loveland Ski Area, about 45 miles west of Denver, shut down for the day because the highway closure kept skiers and workers away.
While many people took advantage of seven Red Cross shelters in schools and recreation centers, others relied on the kindness of strangers.
Brian Jerry of Colorado Springs said people he had never met before let him stay in their Silverthorne home because motels were full. “We called the local Quality Inn, and they basically laughed at us,” Jerry said.
I-70 is the main route between Denver and many of the state’s major ski resorts. The closing of the road could hurt ski business during the lucrative holiday season.
Blowing snow and low visibility also kept one other mountain pass closed Monday; two others that had been cut off were reopened.
In Utah, an avalanche at a trailhead Monday swept away a snowmobiler, authorities said. The man was rushed to a hospital in Provo, said Kim Butler, a Wasatch County sheriff’s officer. His condition was not immediately available.
Authorities had warned of the danger of avalanches in Utah’s backcountry, where thousands of people were expected to ski, hike and snowmobile on New Year’s Day. Avalanches there already have claimed two lives this season.