Snowfall closes schools, grounds airplanes
Ryan Summerlin December 7, 2013
Despite some decent helpings of early snowfall this autumn, what locals and visitors had been hoping for finally came — an estimated 14-inch dumping of powder atop Aspen Mountain and 12 inches on Snowmass ski area late Tuesday and much of Wednesday.
In fact, Mother Nature was generous throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, dropping about 11 inches in the city of Aspen, 9 or 10 inches in the Basalt area and a similar amount in Glenwood Springs. The estimates in each area vary depending on the source and the precise location.
It would suffice to say it was a nice early December storm. It was enough to cancel most flights into and out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, close down local schools and send hundreds of workers and schoolchildren to the slopes for a powder day.
Aspen Skiing Co. called the weather event a “major blizzard.”
“The first major blizzard of the season hit Aspen/Snowmass last night, leaving over one foot of fresh powder on the slope. Even better news, it’s still snowing and should continue to do so through tomorrow,” said Meredith McKee, Skico spokeswoman, in an email to local media.
“Aspen/Snowmass has seen a remarkable 8 feet of snow (96 inches) since October 1, making for one of the best early-season starts to date,” she continued.
Ryan Boudreau, a forecaster with AspenWeather.net, said the snowfall tapered off late Wednesday afternoon. The heavy stuff came down between 6 and 10 a.m., the hours in which the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office conducted a “pacing operation” for vehicles traveling east and west on Highway 82 between the Conoco gas station in Old Snowmass and the Brush Creek public-transportation intercept lot.
No major accidents resulted from the inclement weather in Pitkin County during the daytime hours Wednesday, said Deputy Alex Burchetta, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. There were three or four instances of vehicles sliding off the road and many cases of motorists pulling over to adjust their windshield wipers or defrost their windows, he said.
The next significant snowfall event is not expected until Saturday, Boudreau said. It’s not expected to have quite the same impact as the storm on Tuesday and Wednesday but could bring 3 to 5 inches on Saturday and maybe more on Sunday, according to Cory Gates, also of AspenWeather.net.
With the snow came lower temperatures. Gates’ forecast called for Thursday-morning lows of 5 below to 15 below from Aspen to Basalt.
Jerry Nye, director of the Aspen Streets Department, said his crews were busy sanding and plowing primary thoroughfares like Main Street, North Mill Street, Cemetery Lane, Lone Pine Road, McSkimming Lane, Castle Creek Road and Maroon Creek Road late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The emphasis of the work was on roads that are designated city of Aspen shuttle routes and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus routes, he said.
He said downtown streets would be plowed between 3 and 7 a.m. today, when there is little or no traffic in the commercial core. Snow that’s been pushed into the road medians by plowing operations will be removed today, he said.
Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass, said his office was extremely busy Wednesday but not necessarily because of the new white stuff on the slopes. Wednesday was the first day that passes for Food and Wine magazine’s Aspen Classic, held every June, went on sale.
An employee did a 7 a.m. test of the online booking system, “and we had more than 50 Food and Wine pass reservations before it was supposed to go on sale at 8 o’clock,” Tomcich said.
On Monday, though, his firm had its biggest day in terms of incoming calls since January 2009, primarily due to expectations of winter snowfall.
“We’re getting a lot of calls for Food and Wine, we’re getting a lot of calls for winter, so the combination is creating a busy buzz around here,” Tomcich said.
Wednesday’s snowfall, like the smaller snowy events of the past two months, is helping to build momentum for a busy 2013-14 ski season, he said. It will spark some business this week, but it’s more of an event for locals, Tomcich said. It’s highly doubtful that visitors will be flocking to Aspen to enjoy the slopes this early in the season.
The storm also resulted in flight cancellations and diversions at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. A United Airlines flight from Denver to Aspen could not land at Sardy Field late Tuesday evening and was diverted back to Denver, according to FlightAware.com. On Wednesday, most outbound and incoming flights to and from Denver were canceled. One afternoon flight from Los Angeles was diverted to Denver.
Poor visibility and runway conditions might have been the issue, said Tomcich, who is a local liaison to the airline industry. Airport officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Tomcich said the impact of cancellations and diversions was not severe because Wednesday is a relatively slow travel day and it’s still early in the season.