High Points: The DIA dance | AspenTimes.com

High Points: The DIA dance

Paul E. Anna
High Points
An outbound jet gets de-iced at Denver International Airport.
File photo/Denver Post

Frequent travelers in and out of Aspen, and that is a good many of us, know that this is the time of year when things get a bit dicey. Right around Halloween the weather changes and those late October snowstorms make flying in and out of here a gamble at best.

There are rituals that take place, both here, if you have an outbound flight, and at Denver International Airport if you are in the return mode. This past week I had both, an inbound and an outbound flight cancelled and ended up driving over Vail Pass, both ways, in icy conditions to keep to my appointed rounds.

You all know the drill at DIA when the weather intrudes. Those with seats on flights to Aspen constantly check their phones to see if the snow has begun to fall as they call friends and family for updates. “Has it started to snow yet? Is the wind blowing? Which way is the wind blowing?” they ask as if their family member is a weatherman. Every move the gate agent makes is scrutinized. When the inevitable announcement is made that the flight has been canceled the crowd scurries to get booked on the next one. It is like playing musical chairs.

Then someone, always a savvy Aspenite, books a car and begins to look at the drive option. This usually involves getting a group together to split the cost and the driving. I did this dance on Sunday with an aforementioned savvy Aspenite and made the drive in a little over five hours up and over Vail Pass. It was not ideal, but it was the right move for sure as the flights were cancelled until Tuesday.

The drive reminded me of a Christmas storm long past where the drive became a lifelong memory. It was Dec. 24, 1982. My wife and I were trying to get to Vail to spend Christmas with my parents. We flew into the old Stapleton Airport just as one of the biggest storms in Denver history blew in, canceling our connection to Vail. Quickly, we booked a room at the Stapleton Plaza, a hotel across the street from the airport. As the day progressed the storm got worse, eventually dumping over 24 inches at the airport and shutting the city down. I spent much of the day with the shuttle driver, making the rounds through the airport, pulling people out of stranded cars and bringing them back to the hotel which became packed with refugees from the storm.

Later that evening, Christmas Eve, I spied a guy at the bar with a Cowboy hat, fringed leather jacket, long hair, mustache. He looked like he played guitar for the Eagles. He was making plans to get out of there and I thought this guy was my best shot to get to Vail. He had business on his mind.

The next morning before dawn, we, my wife and I, climbed into an immense white four-wheel-drive vehicle with the mystery stranger that he had commissioned to get him on his appointed rounds. It seemed he had a briefcase, likely full of fresh powder, that he had to get to Telluride and this was his ticket to do so. It took us hours to navigate the fallen snow on I-70 up to the Eisenhower Tunnel and for a while I thought we’d end up stuck on the Interstate.

But once we emerged on the western side of the tunnel, the roads were clear, the sky was the most beautiful blue and the sun was shining on the freshly fallen snow. We were late but we made it for Christmas dinner.

We had made the right call.