Storm shuts down Aspen airport | AspenTimes.com

Storm shuts down Aspen airport

Janet Urquhart

A snowboarder finds the powder plenty deep today on Aspen Mountain. (Jeremy Swanson)

The Aspen airport closed at 5 p.m. today, after a powerful snowstorm forced the cancellation of flights throughout the day.

The Aspen/Pitkin County Airport normally closes at 11 p.m. each day.

Since early this morning, crews worked nonstop to keep the runway clear, but low visibility and cloud ceilings, combined with constant snowfall, prevented any commercial flights or private planes from landing or taking off. United Airlines was busing passengers from Denver.

The National Weather Service is forecasting additional heavy snow with the passage of a cold front tonight and a winter storm warning remains in effect for the Aspen area until 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Nonetheless, airport crews will work to have the runway ready for operations to resume at 7 a.m. Wednesday, weather permitting.

The storm had dumped 20 inches of new snow on the slopes at Aspen and Snowmass by 4:30 p.m. today and forecasters have predicted up to three feet of snow in isolated spots before the storm moves on.

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Aspen Powder Tours will open Wednesday ” a rare November start made possible by snow that has continued to dump throughout the day, 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.

“Tomorrow would be a good day to be up there,” said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman.

Today’s powder day came with canceled classes at Aspen’s public schools. Aspen Country Day School and the Aspen Community School were also closed, but schools in the RE-1 District, including Basalt schools, were open despite heavy snowfall in the midvalley.

Road conditions were predictably dicey. Pitkin County closed Watson Divide Road this afternoon, citing hazardous driving conditions. It may remain closed until sometime Wednesday morning. Plow drivers are focusing on primary routes; secondary routes may be in poor condition, according to the county public works department.

A chain law is in effect in Snowmass Village; conditions on Highway 82 between Aspen and Glenwood Springs include packed snow, blowing snow and icy spots. Chains are also required on Highway 133 over McClure Pass, south of Carbondale, for commercial vehicles, buses and vans with the capacity for 16 or more people.

Chain laws are also in effect on Interstate 70 at the Eisenhower Tunnel and on Vail Pass. For statewide road conditions and alerts, go to http://www.cotrip.org.

The Aspen Skiing Co. was reporting 9 inches of new snow atop Aspen Mountain and Snowmass this morning, but accumulations kept boosting the total throughout the day and additional accumulations are probable during the night.

Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs was reporting 15 inches of fresh stuff at the summit early this afternoon, up from 9 inches first thing this morning. The resort is scheduled to open Friday.

“It depends on how the storm pans out, but this snow will make for some good runs for sure,” said Lauren Yant, Sunlight marketing manager.

In Beaver Creek, the snowstorm has forced organizers to cancel today’s men’s downhill World Cup training. They called off the session after about 2 feet of snow covered the Birds of Prey course overnight. Workers have been unable to clear the snow because of the threat of an avalanche.

In the backcountry, avalanche danger jumped overnight in area mountains, according to the Roaring Fork Avalanche Center. On Monday, conditions were rated as low below treeline and moderate at and above treeline. This morning, avalanche danger was rated as considerable at and above treeline, and moderate below treeline, according to the forecasting center.

Says the center report: With snow totals quickly adding up overnight and moderate to strong southwest winds at higher elevations, we can expect that natural avalanches are possible and human triggered ones probable for this morning. Expect this danger to increase toward high by Wednesday if we receive the higher end of the forecasted snow totals.

For more on the storm, and the ski conditions, see Wednesday’s Aspen Times.

The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.