Snow squall blasts Aspen area Monday morning; Aspen Mountain opens after more than 2-hour wind delays |

Snow squall blasts Aspen area Monday morning; Aspen Mountain opens after more than 2-hour wind delays

Staff Reports
Lift operators at the Silver Queen Gondola talk with skiers and snowboarders Monday morning. Because of the snow squall that moved through, Aspen Mountain did not open until nearly 11:30 a.m. Monday.
David Krause / The Aspen Times

A sudden snow squall that rolled through the Aspen area during Monday morning’s commute snarled traffic and caused several accidents, though no injuries were reported.

“Conditions deteriorated really quickly,” said Alex Burchetta, chief deputy of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, on Monday afternoon. “It was sunny, then all of a sudden the light changed … and a wall of snow came upvalley.

“At times you couldn’t see 5 feet in front of your car.”

The National Weather Service sent out a snow squall warning about 8:10 a.m. that ran until 8:45 a.m. for much of Pitkin County.

Meanwhile, Aspen Mountain didn’t open until 11:30 a.m. because of windy conditions, and the Silver Queen Gondola was only running — very slowly — for about two hours from noon to 2 p.m. The Little Nell Lift was in operation to allow skiers access to Lift 1A.

Most lifts at Snowmass, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands opened on schedule, though not all lifts on the mountains were operating.

Kent Blackmer, director of operations for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, said maintenance supervisors in Aspen received a report about 7:35 a.m. of whiteout conditions in the midvalley, though the Aspen area was still clear.

The snow squall reached the Aspen area just after 8 a.m., when at 8:10 a.m. supervisors reported whiteout conditions so severe they couldn’t see the RFTA buses in the maintenance yard through the office windows, Blackmer said. A supervisor said it was the worst whiteout he’d seen in Aspen.

Not long after, RFTA instituted emergency snowstorm protocols that instruct drivers to pull over if they can’t see, he said.

“All drivers were advised not to overdrive their visibility,” Blackmer said. The procedures lasted about an hour until around 9:30 a.m.

Also, all buses — including BRT buses — were directed to stop at all stops to pick up passengers and get them out of the inclement weather, he said.

For about 20 minutes during the storm, RFTA buses could not make it to the Snowmass Mall and instead dropped off passengers at the Rodeo Lot. Snowmass Village buses took them the rest of the way.

The Aspen airport also reported flight delays.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to three car accidents in the valley caused by the storm, though none produced injuries, Burchetta said. There was a three-car crash at the Aspen Business Center and Highway 82 intersection, while a car slid off Brush Creek Road and another rolled over on McLain Flats Road, he said.

At one point, the Sheriff’s Office sent out an alert about cars stopped near the Mountain Rescue Aspen building on Highway 82 warning other drivers to be careful in the area.

Aspen police responded to a fender bender or two, though none reported injuries, Sgt. Mike Tracey said.