March finally delivers in Aspen |

March finally delivers in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jeremy SwansonA skier finds freshies at Snowmass Tuesday morning. About a foot of snow fell at Snowmass by midmorning; Aspen Mountain picked up 15 inches.

ASPEN ” More than a foot of fresh snow graced the slopes of Aspen Mountain before noon on Tuesday, thanks to a swift moving storm that created whiteout conditions for morning commuters and closed schools from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

While blue skies prevailed over Aspen by late morning, those who managed to hit the slopes found plenty of fresh powder. The official measurement on Aspen Mountain was 15 inches at mid-mountain, according to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. Buttermilk, Snowmass and Aspen Highlands all picked up about a foot in the storm, which began at about 2 a.m. and had all but cleared out some eight hours later.

The snow postponed J2 Junior Nationals racing on Aspen Mountain, as well as Tuesday’s scheduled North American Police Ski Championships racing at Snowmass.

Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs was the big winner among Colorado resorts, boasting 17 inches of freshies by about 6 a.m. Tuesday. Beaver Creek had 10 inches at 6 a.m.

The snow made for a slow commute on Highway 82 in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, as commuters encountered wind-whipped, whiteout conditions in Snowmass Canyon that had the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office urging commuters to avoid driving if possible. Chain laws were in effect in Snowmass Village.

Despite the snowpacked roads and reduced visibility, the morning commute was “remarkably smooth,” said Joe Bauer, patrol director for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department. Drivers slowed down and the usual snow-bred rash of minor mishaps on Highway 82 did not occur, he said.

“It’s very unusual for the weather and roads to be this bad and not have any accidents,” he said. “I think everyone gets a gold star today for driving safely.”

In Aspen, slick roads created problems for stuck motorists and for Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses. At one point, four RFTA buses were spinning their wheels along the Main Street curb at Paepcke Park, though three managed to get back on the road without assistance.

Driver Susan Merritt, whose bus awaited sand and a tow truck, described the drive up the valley as “very icy ” from the canyon on up.”

Bauer spent his time Tuesday morning dealing with a stuck semi-truck two miles east of Aspen. The driver of the 53-foot rig mistakenly thought he could use Highway 82 over Independence Pass, which is closed during the winter months, as an alternate route to travel east. The truck got stuck four miles below the closure gate on the pass; a large tow truck was summoned to get it unstuck so the driver could get the rig turned around, Bauer said.

A citation for the driver was unlikely, Bauer added, though semis aren’t allowed on the narrow pass even when it is open.

“He had obviously no idea what he was getting into,” Bauer said. “It’s not like he was trying to get away with something.”

On Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, one eastbound lane was closed briefly when a semi-tractor truck broke down, said the Colorado State Patrol, though the Colorado Department of Transportation inaccurately reported all eastbound lanes were closed as the result of “jackknifed semis.”

Chain laws were in effect for commercial vehicles on I-70 at Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel, as well as on Highway 133 over McClure Pass, south of Carbondale.

A number of flights in and out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport were canceled or delayed Tuesday morning, according to the airport’s website. A 7 a.m. flight to Denver finally left at close to noon and a 7:35 a.m. departure to Salt Lake City was logged as taking off at 11:53 a.m.

In all, 6 outbound commercial flights were canceled Tuesday morning and one was delayed, according to Jim Elwood, aviation director. One inbound flight was also canceled and four were delayed.

Tuesday’s storm was the first biggie of March, which is historically the biggest snow month of the winter. Last weekend’s much-anticipated storm deposited 9 inches in Highland Bowl, according to Hanle, but the rest of the slopes at local ski areas didn’t see more than 2 or 3 inches and downtown Aspen saw just a dusting of snow. Roughly 6 inches piled up in town on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s forecast in Aspen calls for mostly sunny skies and highs in the 30s. On Thursday, the National Weather Service is predicting partly sunny skies with a 20 percent chance for snow in the afternoon and highs of 35 to 45.

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