Vail schools close for first time in decades | AspenTimes.com
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Vail schools close for first time in decades

Matt Terrell
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Eagle County schools closed because of snow Friday for the first time since the early 1980s. Here, Daniel Reider plows snow from around Minturn Middle School's driveway. (Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily)
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EAGLE COUNTY ” Pigs are flying, hell has frozen over and Elvis Presley is playing the Vilar Center. In other words, Eagle County Schools canceled classes Friday because of snow and dangerous roads.

The collective memories of longtime residents can’t agree on the exact year, but it’s been 25 to 30 years since the last true snow day in Eagle County.

The rarity of school closings has become a long running joke among parents and students, many of whom desperately want a snow day, beg to the skies, “Please, give me a snow day,” but had begrudgingly accepted that such an event would never happen. The very idea of achieving a snow day has reached mythical status ” such as finding Atlantis or the Fountain of Youth. That’s why Battle Mountain Senior John O’Neill said he feels like he and his classmates have become a part of history.

“We talk about it all the time when we see the clouds rolling in and snow piling down, but you always know, the roads are going to be clear, and you’re going to be in class the next morning,” O’Neill said. “Today is definitely a gift. It was sweet being able to get up on the ski mountain on a school day.”

Scott Green, a longtime local and school board president, remembers 1982 as the last time school closed because of weather. He was a was a student at Eagle Valley High School at the time. Students actually went to school that day ” but between the time school started and about 11 a.m., it snowed a foot, Green said. They loaded all the students back on the buses and sent them home before it got any worse.

“It was quite a celebration,” Green said.

And before 1982, you could still count school closings on one hand. Longtime teacher Pat Phelan remembers Battle Mountain closing once because of frozen pipes, and maybe closing one other time in the 1970s, when the school was still in Minturn’s Maloit Park. Green’s daughters were “happy campers” Friday morning, although Reya Green, his sixth-grade daughter, saw the flip side to their day off.

“We were excited, but it’s kind of a bummer because we have to make it up during the summer,” Reya Green.

High school students though seemed to see nothing but a day of freedom. It was a powder day perfect for skiing, and most students were on the mountain, O’Neill said.

Kelly Packston, an Avon resident who went to school for eight years in the school district, said she was shocked to see today’s students get what she and her friends sought for years, but never received.

“Lucky dogs,” Packston said. “We never got a break like that.”

Given the school district’s impressive, Cal Ripkin-like stretch of staying open in all weather ” what sort of conditions finally did them in? Blame it on the snowy chaos in Vail. Vail Pass was closed for 22 hours, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, and eventually I-70 was closed from Vail to Georgetown. Most other mountain passes were closed over night.

Several accidents lined the roads, and there were semi trucks parked for miles down the Interstate ” all of which contribute to unsafe conditions.

Closer to Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum, though, the roads weren’t so different than they are on most other snowy days when schools stay open.

Brooke Skjonsby, spokeswoman for the school district, said that conditions may not have been as bad downvalley, but the school district can’t just close half the schools.

“You might only have an inch or two of snow in Gypsum, but you have teachers driving back and fourth from both ends of the valley,” Skjonsby said. “We have a few students in Leadville, a few students in Basalt. We have to think of everyone who’s involved.”

Considering that it’s been around 25 years since the last closing, many people weren’t expecting it and weren’t really looking for it. Packston said that on her way to work she saw several kids waiting at bus stops as they do every morning.

Canceling classes isn’t something the school district likes doing ” but will always do it if needed, Skjonsby said.

“We’d rather have the students in school learning something than have a free day off, but safety comes first,” Skjonsby said.


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