First winter storm provides test of tires, driving skills
Finally, after what seemed like a never-ending Indian summer, the Roaring Fork Valley was blasted with the first substantial snowstorm of the winter season yesterday.
Snows throughout the day – no doubt perceived as a godsend by skiers and boarders (and business owners) – made trouble for motorists up and down the valley and beyond, particularly during the Monday morning commute.
The storm also wreaked havoc on I-70 in the foothills near Denver, creating a massive pileup that left that least two people dead (see story on page 5).
Authorities in the upper Roaring Fork Valley had responded to two-dozen auto accidents by early Monday evening, and expected to be consumed with weather-related traffic accidents well into last night.
“It’s a sheet of ice out here on Main Street,” one officer said on his police radio before 5 p.m. Monday.
But despite treacherous road conditions, only one reported accident resulted in serious injuries.
Sarah Chung, 27, of Snowmass Village, sustained a serious back injury and several broken ribs in a one-car rollover accident off Brush Creek Road, just downvalley from the Snowmass Stables, at about 10 a.m. Monday.
Chung, a reporter for The Aspen Times, was driving a Toyota 4-Runner down Brush Creek Road when the vehicle hit ice, slid off the right side of the road and rolled one and a half times down an embankment. Chung was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and admitted overnight for observation, but is expected to make a full recovery from her injuries. She was not wearing a seat belt, according to police.
Officer Charlie Martin, community safety supervisor with the Aspen Police Department, said city police responded to nine auto accidents before 5 p.m. yesterday.
“Winter is here,” Martin said, “and the roads are in really poor shape.”
Four of the accidents occurred on steep sections of Monarch, Aspen and Mill streets – all near the base of Aspen Mountain, he said.
“All nine of the accidents could have been avoided with proper driving and tires,” Martin added.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office responded to six auto accidents – none involving injuries – in the county, said Patrol Supervisor Ann Stephenson at about 4:30 p.m. Monday.
“Let’s urge everybody to put their snow tires on,” Stephenson said. “No more procrastinating.”
Troopers with the Colorado State Patrol responded to seven auto accidents on state roads in Pitkin County, said Trooper Bruce Berry after 5 p.m. Monday. And aside from Chung’s accident, no one else was injured, Berry said.
“The roads were slick and icy, from Rifle on up,” Berry said.
The Snowmass Village Police Department handled just two, minor accidents throughout the day, according to Police Chief Art Smythe.
“Our guys did a real good job of getting the roads sanded, so it wasn’t too bad here,” Smythe said.
But, a minor accident and several cars in ditches along Owl Creek Road did force authorities to close the road for a brief spell at about 8:15 a.m., he said.
“It always seems that these early storms catch people by surprise,” Smythe said. “People need to be careful; hopefully it will get better from here.”
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Three longtime residents of the lower Roaring Fork Valley talk about the sinking feeling that built Monday and Tuesday as the Grizzly Creek Fire grew. They are hoping the threat to their neighborhoods has passed.