Photo by Tyler Arroyo
Cristina Pimenta, left, and her brother Bito catch snowflakes while shopping downtown with their parents, Bito Sr. and Melissa, on Wednesday. The afternoon snowfall was a gift for skiers but a nightmare for travelers trying to make it to the Yampa Valley from Denver.
Steamboat Springs Other than their home state and second names, Colorado Springs and Steamboat Springs have little in common. But airline passengers flying from Dallas to Colorado Springs found themselves stranded in Routt County on Wednesday afternoon.
With their flights to Colorado Springs canceled because of the blizzard that pounded the Front Range and Eastern Colorado on Wednesday, some travelers were pushed onto flights to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.
"A lot of times people are in Dallas or somewhere like that and want to get to Colorado," said Ann Copeland, YVRA's terminal manager. "I don't think agents or people understand Hayden in relation to Colorado Springs. What happens is (airlines) are just trying to get passengers into Colorado, not realizing it is four hours over two mountain passes to Colorado Springs."
And there was no getting to Colorado Springs from anywhere Wednesday, including Routt County.
White-out conditions along the Front Range and over the Eastern Plains shut down highways, airports and delivery services Wednesday, stranding many travelers in Steamboat Springs and preventing others from arriving for one of the busiest tourist weekends of the year.
Denver International Airport officials canceled all flights by mid-afternoon, including United Express regional jet service flights to and from YVRA. Delta's flights to and from Salt Lake City also were canceled. Copeland said it was likely all inbound and outbound flights to Denver or connecting through Denver would be canceled until at least this afternoon.
Flights to and from Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Minneapolis arrived as scheduled.
The cancellations made for quite a scene at YVRA, where arriving passengers and stranded travelers scurried back and forth in the crowded terminal. The line at rental car agency booths stretched beyond the baggage carousel at one point Wednesday afternoon, and shuttle service drivers did their best to track down guests and escort them to their rides.
Copeland said it was a mix of emotions for travelers at YVRA.
Those who made it to Steamboat without incident wore their brightest holiday smiles.
"They are happy - happier than heck," Copeland said. "It's snowing. (Today) will be a powder day."
But those who were grounded at YVRA were annoyed, frustrated and tired, she said, adding that airport officials tried to help the stranded passengers find flights on other airlines.
Transporting people to or from Denver wouldn't have helped and wasn't considered, Copeland said.
"The last thing we want is people stuck on (mountain) passes in buses," she said. "It is frustrating when you have plans and you are stuck in Hayden, Colorado. Things happen. I totally sympathize."
Fortunately for many travelers, the snowstorm is expected to subside today. The National Weather Service's blizzard warning for northeast and north central Colorado expires this morning.
Snowfall totals were being measured in feet, not inches, across much of Colorado by early Wednesday evening. Some areas of the Eastern Plains were reporting snow drifts as high as 6 feet, and metro Denver was under as much as 2 feet of snow. More than 3,000 passengers were stranded at DIA on Thursday, and the Red Cross set up shelters to accommodate them.
Portions of interstates 70 and 25 also were closed Wednesday. However, no travel restrictions were in place in Northwest Colorado.
But that didn't mean Steamboat was exempt from the snowfall. The snow, heavy at times, fell throughout Wednesday afternoon and into the evening. The snow was forecast to end late Wednesday night.
Like airline service, delivery service to and from Northwest Colorado was affected by the storm. With roads closed and businesses shut down in Denver, it made mail and package delivery difficult or impossible.
The U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx reported issues, and officials from all three said they were doing whatever it took to get trucks running and planes flying as soon as possible.
Steamboat City Market store manager Margie Morong said the supermarket, much like businesses throughout Steamboat, were prepared not only for a possible Front Range storm, but also for the busy holiday weekend here in the Yampa Valley.
"We are locked and ready to roll," Morong said, adding it wasn't necessary to scramble to the store for eggs. "We always prepare for the holidays. This storm is a quickie. It's supposed to be gone (today)."