Snowstorm dumps, and dumps, and dumps
November 28, 2006
A powerful winter storm buried Aspen in epic fashion Tuesday. The conditions on the slopes won’t soon be forgotten – at least until skiers and snowboarders make their first turns through the bountiful powder today.”Tomorrow would be a good day to be up there,” Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said late Tuesday afternoon.The official measurement from the top of Aspen Mountain at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday was 20 inches, but 2 feet was the general consensus among those standing in it. At some points during the day, the snow was piling up at a rate of 2 inches per hour.”It was almost too deep in some places,” Zach Perelman said after venturing up onto Aspen Mountain. “You couldn’t get up enough speed to get through.””It’s an old-fashioned snowstorm, there’s no question about it,” said longtime Aspenite Jim Markalunas, who tracks snowfall in his backyard. “This is a biggie.”
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the mountains surrounding Aspen and much of western Colorado through 6 p.m. today. The forecast called for more snow to fall through last night and today, with temperatures dropping today and plummeting tonight.Headaches for travelers Tuesday’s snow hampered travel locally and across the state. By midafternoon, no commercial flights had landed or departed from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport because of poor visibility, and officials closed the airport at 5 p.m. instead of the usual 11 p.m. All nine scheduled arrivals and departures involving three carriers were canceled. No private aircraft made it in or out, either. The weather also effectively shut down the Eagle County Airport. Crews will have the Aspen airport ready to go this morning, though visibility may continue to prevent air travel. Yesterday, United Express arranged to bus passengers and baggage from Denver to Aspen. The fourth bus of the day was scheduled to arrive Tuesday evening.”It sounds like people were in pretty good spirits, given the conditions,” said Bill Tomcich, president of local reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airlines.The phones at Stay Aspen Snowmass actually began ringing off the hook Monday, when forecasters were predicting big snow, said Tomcich, who went out to buy a yardstick Tuesday so he could keep tabs on the accumulations outside his window (18 inches at 1 p.m.).
“It’s extraordinary, even by Aspen standards,” he said.Driving was predictibly dicey. Chain laws were in effect in Snowmass Village and along sections of Interstate 70.”Road conditions are awful,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy George Kremer. There were numerous spinouts and slide-offs through the day, all because drivers were going too fast.Kremer warned drivers to stay off the roads, use public transportation when possible and, if you have to drive, go slowly. “If you don’t have to go, don’t go,” he added. “Everybody needs to slow down and increase the distance between your car and the person in front of you.”Snow removal crews are focusing on major arteries and Colorado Department of Transportation officials said secondary roads remain slick.A truck got stuck on the entry road to the Pitkin County Landfill on Tuesday, forcing closure of the facility until the vehicle could be moved. Pitkin County closed Watson Divide Road, citing treacherous conditions, and warned that secondary roads in the county would be in poor condition as plows concentrated on primary routes.Snowmass Village instituted chain restrictions quickly Tuesday morning, meaning snow tires or chains were required of all vehicles. There were still problems, though, including a semi that wound up in a ditch off Brush Creek Road in the village, even though its tires were chained.Schools close, or notThe storm prompted the closure of Aspen public schools, but classes convened as usual in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Judy Haptonstall stood firm behind her decision to hold school, even as the snow piled up in the midvalley, though some parents questioned the call.”It really was clear-cut,” Haptonstall said of her decision.She said her team consults with the State Patrol, state and county road maintenance crews, and people living throughout the district to make a decision to hold or cancel school.”Safety is the key piece,” she said. If kids can’t be delivered to school safely in one part of the district, such as Basalt, school is canceled throughout the district, she said.Aspen Superintendent Diana Sirko said she would wait until this morning to decide whether to cancel classes for a second straight day.”It [the snow] is starting to slow down a little bit now. We’ll wait until the first thing in the morning to make the call,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
Epic skiing todayAs for the ski conditions, today may eclipse Tuesday, and Tuesday was superlative. “Epic,” was how teacher Chris Keleher put it after taking advantage of Tuesday’s canceled classes to hit Aspen Mountain. “You could ski and then go back and ski the same line, and there was still fresh snow.””My heart is so happy it’s about to burst,” said Aspen Middle School teacher Brandy Voneissenstein at day’s end. “It’s a good thing I’m short, because for me, it was waist-high.”Aspen Powder Tours will open today – a rare November start made possible by Tuesday’s dumping, according to the Aspen Skiing Co. Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk aren’t scheduled to open until Dec. 9, but the storm means additional terrain should open at both Aspen Mountain and Snowmass throughout the week, according to the Skico.Top-to-bottom skiing on Ajax is expected, but not first thing this morning. There’s also a chance the Dumps will open, along with the FIS chair, said the Skico’s Hanle. At Snowmass, the Big Burn opened Tuesday and the Sheer Bliss chair may begin running today.Aspen Times reporters Scott Condon and Charles Agar contributed to this report. The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.