Winter blows into Aspen
ASPEN – Winter arrived quickly in Aspen on Monday, shutting down the airport and Highway 82 over Independence Pass, and dumping about 9 inches of fresh snow on the upper ski slopes by early afternoon.
The first major storm of the season hit the upper Roaring Fork Valley with a vengeance shortly after 8 a.m. and just in time for the height of the morning commute. Rain turned to sheets of horizontal sleet in the gusty winds of a cold front and minutes later, it was snowing in earnest.
The Colorado Department of Transportation closed Highway 82 over Independence Pass, southeast of town, at 9 a.m., calling the closure temporary. CDOT said it may reopen the route after the storm clears, depending on conditions, though the pass is scheduled to close for the season on Nov. 7.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office issued an alert, warning motorists of hazardous conditions, at 9:30 a.m. and issued another one shortly before 4 p.m., as the snow re-intensified, creating whiteout conditions in some parts of the county.
The Elk Mountains surrounding Aspen and Snowmass, as well as much of western Colorado, remain under a winter storm warning until noon Tuesday. The National Weather Service was calling for accumulations of 8 to 16 inches along with gusty winds, before skies begin to clear on Wednesday. Clear skies and a low of about 6 degrees were forecast on Wednesday night, with sunny skies and a high near 45 on Thursday.
The first round of snow tapered off after depositing 6 to 7 inches of snow in town on Monday morning. The slopes of Aspen Mountain were covered, though the tall grass was poking through the blanket of white. Snowmass was sporting 18 inches of snow on the Big Burn by early afternoon – 9 inches that fell Monday morning and 9 inches from previous snowfall, according to Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman. Aspen Mountain had 13 inches on top, including 3 or 4 existing inches.
“It’s nice to see white all the way down to town,” Hanle said.
The Skico had planned to fire up snowguns for the first time this season on Nov. 1, but moved the snowmaking on Aspen Mountain up to Monday night, given this week’s forecast for continued cold.
“We’re going to fire up the guns,” Hanle said. “We figure we might as well get it on the ground – the rest of this week looks cold.”
Snowmaking at Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk will wait until November, but the Skico wants to get a jump on preparing Aspen Mountain’s World Cup course. Women’s racing is scheduled on Thanksgiving weekend; the slopes at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass open for the season on Thanksgiving Day.
The Skico will also have a snowcat packing snow on some of the low-angle runs atop Aspen Mountain Tuesday, Hanle said.
In town, city plows hit the streets for the first time this season Monday, but anyone who failed to wear boots suffered wet feet trying to get around. Trees still holding their leaves bowed low and some branches snapped. A power line was reported leaning over Lower River Road in Woody Creek and tall trucks were banished from the road near the Woody Creek Tavern until the hazard was removed.
At Big O Tire in Basalt, the staff quit taking appointments by noon. Customers, suddenly mindful that it’s time for snow tires, had booked up the day’s slots.
At the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, where 10 United Express flights were canceled Saturday and Sunday because of ongoing repairs to navigational equipment on Aspen Mountain, it was the snow that brought air travel to a halt on Monday.
The terminal was quiet on Monday morning, according to Francey Jesson, assistant aviation director of operations.
“People are used to looking out the window, seeing the weather and not bothering to go to the airport,” she said. “I think most people realize they’re not going anywhere.”
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