Blizzard blasts valley, snarls traffic |

Blizzard blasts valley, snarls traffic

Traffic backed up on Main Street in Aspen on Monday evening, as a quick-moving but fierce storm blew through the Roaring Fork Valley. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

Traffic gridlocked late Monday afternoon as a fierce winter storm socked Aspen just in time for rush hour.Roads conditions worsened rapidly as the storm raged, catching drivers off guard. Motorists in Aspen reported being unable to see more than 20 feet ahead during the blizzard, with heavy, wet snow falling in sheets.Shortly before 5 p.m., dispatchers from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office alerted deputies to “multiple vehicles off the road.” Traffic reportedly ground to a halt near Emma at one point, apparently because of a multiple-car accident.At 5:15 p.m., a deputy reported a United Parcel Service truck had run off the road at the bottom of Mill Street near the Aspen Art Museum. A RFTA bus was reported stuck a half-mile up Brush Creek Road from Highway 82, and some downvalley buses were delayed for 30 to 60 minutes. At least one RFTA bus reportedly ended up in a ditch near Aspen.

By 5:40 p.m., there were reports of cars and trucks sliding off the road at Power Plant Road, as they were attempting to bypass the backups on Highway 82 near Cemetery Lane by driving under the Castle Creek bridge. The road was closed shortly thereafter. Red Mountain Road was also closed for more than two hours.Statewide, sections of Interstate 70 were closed in both directions by midafternoon.For those who didn’t have to drive, however, the snowfall was nothing but good news. Shouts of joy could be heard around town as the heavy snows topped off several days of cool temperatures and intermittent snowfall.More than a foot of fresh snow over the weekend had Aspen Skiing Co. officials excited Monday, but they were equally stoked about forecasts of low temperatures over the next few nights.

“The best thing is it’s going to get cold, and we can get the snowmaking going,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. “We couldn’t ask for something better than this. You should hear guns at three mountains [starting Monday night].”The National Weather Service forecast lows in the teens Monday through Wednesday and dropping to 9 degrees on Thursday night. Snowmakers will crank away on Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, which are scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24; they might also start blowing snow at Aspen Highlands, Hanle said.But nothing beats natural snow. Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands received 13 inches from Friday through Sunday night, while Snowmass got a foot and Buttermilk scored 9 inches, Hanle said. More snow was forecast today.The brunt of last weekend’s storm fell north of Aspen. Five Front Range areas that are already open reported up to 20 inches as of snow Monday afternoon for the prior 48 hours. Loveland was top dog, with 20 inches.

Keystone logged 18 inches, with half of that falling Sunday. Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge all reported 17 inches of fresh snow on Saturday and Sunday. The storm was a mixed blessing for Summit County resorts. Heavy winds that gusted up to 100 mph blew trees down Saturday in Frisco and Breckenridge.Winter Park, which opens Wednesday, was boasting about the snowfall on its website: “28 inches in the last 72 hours with another storm on the way,” said the copy accompanying a photo of a skier slicing through powder. An adjacent clock ticked down the time until the resort opens.Elsewhere in the state, Steamboat claimed 16 inches on Saturday and Sunday. Resorts to the south stayed drier. Wolf Creek, which is also open, tallied 6 inches over the last 48 hours as of Monday morning.Hanle said the Skico’s four mountains dodged the heavy wind over the weekend. Snowcats continued mashing down the snow that fell by using their heavy, tank-like tracks but not tillers. Boot packers have also been tromping in Highland Bowl to stabilize the base layer, he said.While it might have seemed like the ski resorts were getting desperate for snow, conditions are actually pretty good on the higher slopes. Snowmass Mountain manager Doug Mackenzie said in a recent interview that 3 feet of snow fell on the Big Burn and other high slopes of Snowmass Ski Area during October. Some of that snowfall melted away, but enough stuck to provide a good base, he said.

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