Avalanche buries cars on road to Winter Park | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche buries cars on road to Winter Park

Robert Weller
The Associated Press
Front-end loaders remove snow from U.S. 40, where a huge avalanche swept two cars off the road. Eight people were rescued from the buried vehicles. (Chris Schneide/Rocky Mountain News/AP)

Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A huge ava­lanche knocked two cars off a mountain pass Saturday on the main highway to one of the state’s largest ski areas, shortly after crowds headed through on the way to the lifts, authorities said.

Eight people were rescued from the buried vehicles and all were taken to area hospitals, said state Patrolman Eric Wynn. Details of their conditions were not available.

“Our crews said it was the largest they have ever seen. It took three paths,” Stacey Stegman of the transportation department said of the massive slide on U. S. 40 near 11,307­ foot Berthoud Pass, about 50 miles west of Denver on the way to Winter Park Resort.

Wynn said crews were prob­ing the area for other vehicles but they believe all have been found.

The avalanche hit between 10 a. m. and 10: 30 and was about 200 to 300 feet wide and 15 feet deep, Wynn said. The area usually has slides 2 to 3 feet deep because crews trigger them before more snow can accumulate, said Spencer Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Three snow storms in as many weeks have dumped more than 4 feet of snow on parts of Colorado and authorities haven’t had time to test all slide areas, Logan said.

“This is a tremendous amount of snow to come down the mountain for us,” Stegman said.

What raised the avalanche danger as much or more than the storms was wind of 25 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph Saturday morning, Logan said. The avalanche danger was expected to rise with gusts up to 70 mph predicted Saturday night.

“That’s not that fast for this area, but it’s plenty fast enough to blow snow around and make for more of these potential ava­lanche slabs,” Logan said.

Among those hospitalized after the avalanche was Darren Johnson, a member of the Oak­wood Road Church in Ames, Iowa, said Johnson’s father, Don Johnson. Darren Johnson was released Saturday and was fine, his father said. A passenger in Johnson’s car, Iowa State Uni­versity sophomore Peter Olsen of Nevada, suffered a broken rib, Don Johnson said.

Darren and his wife, Sarah Johnson, were in a group of about 30 church members in a four-car caravan returning home from a ski trip to Colorado that started Jan. 1.

Don Johnson said his son’s car was the only one in the cara­van caught in the slide. Johnson said the group had left their ski resort Saturday morning and traveled about 10 to 15 miles on their way home when the ava­lanche hit. Michael Murphy and his friends were heading up to the backcountry and to Winter Park ski resort Saturday when their path was blocked by the avalanche, which he estimated came down minutes before they got to the scene. One friend’s father was about 10 minutes ahead of them, caught on the other side of the ava­lanche.

“Initially we couldn’t get in cell phone contact with him so we were pretty nervous,” said Murphy, 20, of Boulder.