Thursday morning began with the first flurry of winter, as large, soggy snowflakes tumbled down from a cloudy sky. While the weather brought good news for ski resorts, it also resulted in a traffic snarl along Interstate 70.
“The first snowfall of the year is always one of the busiest (days) for us,” Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said. “People sometimes need a reminder to slow down. … Unfortunately, that’s a lesson people learn the hard way.”
Traffic jams started around 8:30 a.m., as cars skidded to the side of the highway, lacking traction driving up to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels. Lewis said he was not aware of any injuries resulting from the crashes.
While he did not have a final count for the number of crashes that morning, the accidents resulted in the closure of one lane east of the tunnels and, subsequently, full closure of the highway from Silverthorne for two hours.
“The snow came in so quickly that folks were having difficulty getting traction,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said. “If there are people up there (who) aren’t prepared and trying to drive in it, that’s a lot of what slows us down.”
She encouraged drivers to equip their vehicles with adequate snow tires, chains or other traction devices and to use four-wheel drive in icy conditions. The exhortation is just one small piece of a campaign by CDOT to encourage — and enforce — proper traction for drivers.
The National Weather Service forecasted the snow to continue throughout the night and subside early Friday morning. Kyle Fredin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the storm developed over the Four Corners and will move into eastern Wyoming.
“We had a good trough of low pressure, but it wasn’t that cold. It was more moist than cold,” he said.
He expects this winter to be another El Nino season, with snow favoring mountains in the south of the state.
“It’s a long winter yet to come,” he added. “You can’t write off that it’s gonna be a dry or extremely wet winter anywhere.”
Summit County resorts used the snowfall as an opportunity to ramp up snowmaking operations in anticipation of the season. Loveland Ski Area started snowmaking Wednesday evening, continuing late into the following morning.
“Somebody finally flipped the switch and turned it to winter,” Loveland Marketing Director John Sellers said.
Loveland reported seven inches of snow following the storm, with no set opening date, but plans to open after the ski area acquires an 18-inch base.
“We still have a lot of work to do. We’re not gonna open this weekend or anything like that,” he added. “I think this snow will definitely stick around for a little while. The nights are looking really good. If we’re able to be productive, we can make a lot of progress.”
The race is on for Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which is using an 18-inch base on High Noon as the mark for turning on the first lifts. A-Basin reported six inches of fresh snow by Thursday afternoon.
Copper Mountain and Keystone Resort both reported a few inches as well. The two resorts both have scheduled opening day for Friday, Nov. 6. Meanwhile, Breckenridge Ski Resort will open on Friday, Nov. 13.
“We’re definitely excited Old Man Winter showed up,” Copper Communications Manager Stephanie Sweeney said. “Any little bit helps, for sure.”