Big storm shuts down Aspen air travel | AspenTimes.com

Big storm shuts down Aspen air travel

John ColsonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN More than a foot and a half of snow fell on Aspen area ski slopes Monday and Tuesday, and it was still snowing and several inches deep on the streets of Aspen on Tuesday morning, according to reports.In Aspen, the unofficial snow total for December to date was said to be higher than it was at this time in 2007. And December 2007 came close to breaking all previous records. The result of all this powder, aside from gleeful whoops and face shots on the slopes, was fender-benders on the streets, canceled flights into and out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, buried cars on the side streets and treacherous footing for pedestrians on local sidewalks and streets.According to local air-travel expert Bill Tomcich, not a single flight left the Aspen airport on Tuesday, as of about 2:30 p.m., either commercial carriers or general aviation and private planes.Instead, buses from of the Gray Line company, which has taken over where Colorado Mountain Express (CME) left off after CME was purchased by Vail Resorts earlier this year, has busily been shuttling passengers between Aspen and Denver.As for travel on Highway 82, for the second time in five days, the Colorado Department of Transportation ran into problems in the midvalley. A plow and sander truck was sucked into the ditch that serves as a median on Highway 82 in front of Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park, about two miles east of Basalt. A plow got stuck at almost the same spot Dec. 18, in the downvalley lanes, snarling rush hour traffic.On Tuesday, the plow got stuck in deep snow while heading upvalley. A tow truck for big rigs was on the scene at about 1:30 p.m. trying to figure out how to remove the stuck truck. Two other CDOT plows and sander trucks were at the scene to offer assistance.The snafu apparently prevented the plows from hitting the highway in that area, at least temporarily. The downvalley-bound lanes were piled deep with snow that hampered travel.Additionally, cars could be seen off the road and in either the median or in ditches alongside the road starting Monday afternoon.In Aspen, efforts to reach Jerry Nye of the citys streets department were not successful.Carbondale Public Works Director Larry Ballenger estimated his town received about a foot of powder over the 24-hour period. He said the snowplows were out at about 4 a.m. and by mid-afternoon the streets were generally passable; clear from curb to curb, but snowpacked.

Were fighting the good fight, declared Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Director Jim Elwood Tuesday afternoon, noting that the snow had been cleared and the airport is ready for airplanes, even though no flights had come in all day.He said that in most cases, the planes bound for Aspen were not taking off from their originating airports.Tomcich, president of the Stay Aspen Snowmass reservations service and an expert on air travel for the area, said that of 23 flights scheduled to land at Aspen on Monday, when the snows started falling in earnest, only 12 made it in. Of the remainder, seven were canceled and four were diverted to Denver.On Tuesday, as of 2:30 p.m., no planes, either commercial or private, had landed in Aspen, though 13 were still listed as pending and had not been canceled at that time.He said that with visibility at a half a mile, and a ceiling of clouds at 400 feet, thats too low to fly.Although the Garfield County Regional Airport was open for much of the day on Tuesday, personnel there reported no landings of planes diverted from Aspen.In Grand Junction, though, the director at Walker Field, Rex Tippetts, said that perhaps 50 private jets and planes had landed Tuesday that had been bound for Aspen.Tippetts said Grand Junction got perhaps six inches of snow out of the storm, which for Grand Junction is a lot of snow. He said his crews had cleared the runways and tarmac overnight and that the airport had not been forced to close because of the storm.

Chuck Murphy, head of the Gray Line Tours of Colorado Springs and Denver, said his company, which runs a fleet of 48-foot and 55-foot coaches, has been going nonstop.Its been fun. Its been challenging, he said, noting that this is the first season his company has committed to serving the Aspen market.He noted the Colorado Department of Transportation closed Vail Pass to all traffic early Tuesday morning, which tied things up. But he said his buses carried passengers and luggage from Aspen to Denver International Airport starting at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday and ending at 3:30 p.m., and that a special truck brought more than 400 pieces of luggage to Aspen on Monday night.From my perspective the addition of their new scheduled motor coach service is a godsend to holiday guests who might otherwise have their travel plans totally foiled by this significant winter storm, Tomcich said of the bus service.

Aspen Times reporter Scott Condon contributed to this report.jcolson@aspentimes.com

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