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Storm hampers travel, delights Aspen skiers and students

Aspen Times Staff Report
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
Paul Conrad | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” The snowstorm that struck the Roaring Fork Valley on Sunday night and Monday triggered an avalanche that closed McClure Pass, closed schools, delayed travelers and made weary snow-shovelers dream of power tools.

For anyone who could make it to the slopes, all the hassles were worth it.

“People are really excited and that’s great,” said Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co. Hanle reported more than 250 inches of snow on area mountains so far this season.

Some local skiers claimed Aspen Mountain snow totals were under-reported, but Hanle said the numbers are up-to-date (from 9 inches on Aspen to 16 inches on Snowmass in the most recent dump) and reflect a different storm pattern.

“With these southwesterly storms that have been coming in, Snowmass has beat the pants off Aspen and Highlands,” he said. “I think it’s a little unusual.”

The storm dumped more than a foot on the ski slopes and about 8 inches on the valley floor from Basalt to Glenwood Springs. The storm boosted the snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin to 59 percent above average, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Monday.

With more than a foot of new snow falling on local streets, Jerry Nye, director of the Aspen Streets Department, said his crews were out by midnight Sunday and were expecting to be out at about the same time Monday night.

He said the snow removal effort involved 20 hired dump trucks, as well as the city’s three motorgraders, two front-end loaders and two dump trucks.

And, he said, the official snow dump site, next to the Pitkin County Animal Shelter along Highway 82, is “at its max” for normal use. As a result, he said, his crews have been locating temporary storage sites “all over town,” including a number of city parks and vacant lots.

Some locals have asked whether the city erred in getting rid of its snowmelt machine, which used to operate at the old snow dump site next to Rio Grande Park in town.

But Nye said the machine, while it had its useful moments when it was in operation, “wouldn’t have helped us out this year” because it could not have kept pace with the volume of snow that has fallen lately.

Ticking off the seven official storms that have dumped on Aspen since early January, Nye said his crews have hauled 2,303 loads to various sites, counting only the removal effort from Main Street and the commercial core of the city. If you added in the side streets, neighborhoods and peripheral cleanings, he said, “I’m sure we’d have more like 4,000 loads.”

That, he said, compares to the 724 loads the city hauled in all of January 2007.

Meanwhile, Highway 133 over McClure Pass was closed until 5 p.m. Monday after at least one avalanche covered the road in snow and other slides were a posed threat.

“It’s really bad. Slides have come down,” Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said Monday morning. “It’s not safe right now to do the work they need to do.”

Shanks said she didn’t have information about when the avalanche closed the road. There were no reports of the slide catching any travelers.

The road was blocked at mile marker 40, near the top of McClure Pass, Shanks said. The area reported 17 inches of snow Sunday and Sunday night.

Crews had to trigger other slides and then clear debris. CDOT reported the road reopened at 5 p.m. Chains were required for all commercial vehicles and vans with a capacity for 16 or more passengers.

Plows had trouble keeping up with the snow on Highway 82 and on city streets. Morning commuters faced snowpacked roads before 9 a.m. Even after CDOT plows hit Highway 82 in force, icy conditions still remained.

Several inches of snow hampered travel in Glenwood Springs. Vehicles that ventured in the unplowed turning lanes risked getting stuck.

Schools throughout the Roaring Fork School District, which includes Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, were closed Monday. It was the second time they were closed this school year. That’s the first time that has happened in an unknown number of years. School administrators weren’t available for comment on school cancellation records.

Public and private schools in Aspen also called off classes.

Many workers undoubtedly wanted to head to the slopes rather than their jobs, but it was business as usual at many offices and establishments. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority reported delays for its buses but no major problems. Travelers in the upper valley dealt with snowpacked and icy roads, along with the typical heavy traffic volume.

And, of course, shovelers throughout the valley lamented another challenge of clearing snow off their driveways and over the mounds towering along their driveways.

Bob Bailey, a clerk at Ace Hardware in Carbondale, reported that the store has been cleaned out of snow blowers, roof rakes and shovels this winter. The store hopes to restock shovels and roof rakes, but people hoping to upgrade to the heavier equipment probably are out of luck.

“We can’t even get snow blowers any more,” Bailey said.


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