Two weeks to clear quarry road |

Two weeks to clear quarry road

Gary HubbellAspen Times correspondent
A front-end loader clears snow deposited by four recent avalanches on the road to the Yule marble quarry. The snow was 35 feet deep in some stretches. Photo courtesy Gary Hubbell.

A series of recent avalanches buried the road up the Yule Creek valley near Marble under so much snow that quarry workers had to snowshoe and snowmobile to work.In early January the road to the Yule marble quarry was covered with four massive avalanches up to 35 feet thick in places – deep enough to hide a 16-foot-tall front-end loader chiseling a path through the millions of cubic yards of snow blocking the valley.”We figure the slides came down on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 8 and 9,” said Gary Bascom, a foreman at the quarry. “Then another storm came in and dumped 2 feet on top of the slides.”

As storms pummeled Colorado that weekend, Marble got its share and more – more than 5 feet of wet, heavy snow in just two days. “The snowpack was at 171 percent of normal after that round of storms,” said Rob Hunker, a weather forecaster and avalanche expert for the state of Colorado. Because the prestorm snowpack couldn’t hold the weight of all that new snow, avalanches weighing millions of tons came thundering down from the high peaks and ridges.

Quarry workers couldn’t even attempt to access the mine until Wednesday, Jan. 12, Bascom said, “and it took us six hours on snowshoes just to make four miles.”After breaking trail with snowshoes, the crew accessed the mine by snowmobile. Workers brought their gear for several days and twice spent two days at a time at the mine before going home. The total crew is 10 quarry workers, superintendents and office staff. “We’re well prepared for avalanches,” Bascom said. “We prepare for this eventuality. We have all taken avalanche safety classes, and we have food and sleeping bags up at the quarry in case we get stuck.”

Fortunately, the quarry’s massive front-end loader was at the mine, and workers started digging their way down the road, displacing 2-foot-diameter tree trunks, rocks and snow rubble up to 35 feet deep. Another crew started from the bottom with bulldozers, grading their way up to the crew on top. After digging for nine days, they met in the middle at 1:45 p.m. yesterday.”We were down to the very last drops of diesel fuel,” said quarry administrative assistant Kimberley Perrin. “The loader was burning 100 gallons a day.” Bascom said the effort to clear the road was worth it, despite the costs. “It’s still worth our while – workers have families to feed, and we have marble to mine.”

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