Hundreds of travelers stuck in Vail
December 31, 2007
VAIL ” Stranded motorists sat in their cars, slept in shelters and hung out at the bus station Monday in Vail as Interstate 70 remained closed across the high country.
Vail Pass on the interstate closed Sunday afternoon and stayed closed overnight. Avalanche work continued on I-70 Monday morning.
About 100 people stayed in shelters in Vail Sunday night, with another 50 staying in shelters in Minturn and Eagle.
Dozens of people remained at Vail’s Town Hall on Monday morning, milling about, eating the food that was provided and waiting for news.
“Beats sleeping in a cold car,” said John Zerr of Colorado Springs, who spent the night on a cot in Vail’s Town Council chambers. “I had a good little sleep.”
Zerr was traveling back to Colorado Springs from San Diego on Sunday night. He saw a road message sign that said the pass was closed, and tried to get a motel room in Eagle, Edwards or Avon ” but everything was booked.
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When he got to Vail, a police officer told him to go to the shelter.
“It’s a little bit interesting that an interstate with today’s technology would be closed,” he said
Now, he’s just waiting for news about when the road will reopen.
“Rumor is about 2:30,” he said.
Evan Snyder, Gage Snyder and Matt Collins were heading back to Nebraska on Sunday after their ski trip in Steamboat.
They braved whiteout conditions on Highway 131, taking about four hours to get from Steamboat to Vail. So they weren’t surprised when they found out Vail Pass was closed, they said.
They helped set up chairs and cots at the shelters, at Town Hall and at Vail Chapel, and ended up sleeping on the floor at Town Hall.
“Might as well let the kids and the old people have the cots,” Collins said.
Nico and Sabine Sturzenegger of Switzerland had come to Keystone for a week to ski. They decided to come over to Vail for a day Sunday for skiing.
“It was just great,” he said.
But when they tried to go back over the pass, it was closed. On the way back down, they got stuck in the snow.
“It took us 20 minutes to get the car out,” Nico said.
“What an experience,” Sabine said.
They tried to find a hotel room.
“Everything was fully booked,” Nico said.
They ended up staying at Town Hall.
“I would have preferred my own bed, but it was very organized,” Sabine said.
With nothing else to do, they headed out Monday morning to go skiing at Vail Mountain.
Dan Smith, chairman of the board of the local Salvation Army, was over seeing the shelter Monday. He was giving updates to the stranded motorists about when the pass might be cleared. It was looking like afternoon, he said Monday morning.
Avalanche work continued at about 20 sites Monday, Smith said, but high winds persisted at high elevations.
The shelters were set up at about 8 p.m. last night, he said.
Smith said he’s had to discourage motorist from trying to find alternative routes.
“You’re warm, you’re dry, you’re comfortable, you have information,” he said. “Stay where you are.”
Westbound I-70, the main route between Denver and many of the state’s major ski resorts, was closed from Vail all the way to Floyd Hill, about 10 miles west of Denver’s outskirts.
P.J. Bailey, 24, left Breckenridge to head home to Denver around 1 p.m. Sunday, but nearly four hours later, she was no farther than Georgetown.
“I was told it would get better, but a mile east of Georgetown, there were whiteout conditions. You couldn’t even see the front of your car,” she said. She pulled onto a shoulder for about 15 minutes but finally decided to head back to Georgetown for the night after watching ambulances drive past.
She was searching for a hotel room Sunday evening. The Super 8 Motel was already sold out.
“You should see this town. There’s people stopped everywhere,” she said.