Winds wreak havoc

Weather forces closure of upper-mountain chairlifts, some highways

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Cars park along the side of U.S. Highway 40 just east of Steamboat Springs on Friday. Rabbit Ears Pass was closed for several hours Friday afternoon because of high winds and hazardous driving conditions.

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A truck comes down Rabbit Ears Pass, which was closed Friday morning due to high winds and blowing snow.

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A snowplow clears snow from U.S. Highway 40 on Friday morning near the base of Rabbit Ears Pass.

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Gondola cars rock in the wind Friday at the Steamboat Ski Area. Many lifts at the ski area, including the gondola, were closed because of high winds.

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A Colorado Department of Transportation worker tells motorists Friday that U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass is closed because of adverse weather conditions.

— Skiers and riders have been waiting all winter for a week like this. It's just too bad many of them weren't able to enjoy all the fresh snow at the Steamboat Ski Area on Friday.

High winds forced the closure of many of the ski area's upper-mountain chairlifts. The weather also played havoc with transportation across the state, as highways and interstates were shut down for much of the day because of winds, snow and avalanche danger.

The wind topped out at 107 mph atop the ski area Friday, spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said. And despite plenty of fresh powder, the blowing snow and poor visibility made it dangerous for skiers and riders.

"Storm Peak Express lift and Morningside lift did not ever open to the public because it was determined too windy to open," Thomsen said. "The gondola closed at about 9:30 a.m., and then Sunshine Express, Pony Express, Sun-down Express, Four Points, Bar UE and Thunderhead Express followed."

"There was great powder up there, but the safety of the guests here at Steamboat is our ultimate concern and priority."

The lower half of the ski mountain remained open, Thomsen said.

As Steamboat ramps up for the busy Presidents Day weekend, some incoming travelers may have had to postpone their trip by a day.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears and Berthoud passes early Friday because of hazardous conditions. Loveland Pass also remained closed Friday, and Interstate 70 was shut down from Floyd Hill outside of Denver all the way to Vail.

"Everything started closing between 10 and 11:30 a.m., one after another," said Stacy Stegman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. "The big thing on Friday was the wind and the visibility. Once the wind died down, we were able to get the roads clear."

U.S. 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass and most sections of I-70 had re-opened by Friday afternoon

Flight inbound and outbound of Yampa Valley Reg-ional Airport experienced some delays and cancellations Friday, but airport officials said they weren't caused by local weather conditions.

"Our weather isn't affecting our flights as much as where they are originating from," said Ann Copeland, terminal and operations manager for the airport. "We do have winds, but luckily we have dry runways, so that usually doesn't cause us too many problems."

One flight out of Salt Lake City was canceled because of a mechanical problem, and others were canceled or delayed because of high winds in Denver, Copeland said.

"American Airlines was running late, but again, that was out of Dallas," Copeland said. "My understanding is the weather is going to be good for the next two days."

Jim Daniels, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the high winds and snow should end today.

"The biggest impact with this storm has been the very strong winds associated with it," Daniels said. "We were looking at winds in the order of 15 to 25 mph with gusts as high as 50 mph."

This particular storm came from the northwest.

"On a larger scale, we did have a shift in the weather patterns, and that's allowed the systems to come down from the northwest very strongly. We are expecting a change to less cold air going into the central part of the country next week," Daniels said. "We probably won't have much going on today and Sunday, and the next chance of snow will be coming Monday or Tuesday."

- To reach Allison Plean, call 871-4204

or e-mail aplean@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

ThreeJobs 7 years, 10 months ago

Yes, but they kept selling full lift tickets to the unsuspecting guests even after the gondola closed and the upper mountian lifts were closed! Guess ACS has to wring the last dollars out before the sale.

Ofcourse they aren't concerned about repeat business at this point. Wonder how high the accident count got before the "concern for safety" kicked in.

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Jon Casson 7 years, 10 months ago

Hey ThreeJobs-

How about all the signs all over the base of the mountain telling people the gondola and other lifts were closed? Or, the patrollers and ambassadors at the base there to answer peoples questions? Or, the fact that unhappy customers could get a full refund if they only had one or two scans on their ticket? Or the signs on each ticket window that high winds were forecasted and lifts might not run? Same thing they do EVERY time high winds or severe weather is forecasted.

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ThreeJobs 7 years, 10 months ago

Hey Just-

There were no signs yet at 10:00 except one on the ticket window that said Storm Peak was closed even though the gondola and other upper mountain lifts had shut down. Indeed, I talked to a fellow that had NO runs on his ticket and was denied a refund twice before insisting to see a supervisor and finally getting one.

People were still being directed to the Christy Lift. Did you happen to see the crowd? People were still tromping down from the transit center without info as there were no mountain personel there to inform them of situation. Certainly could have been much better managed.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear the info in your post. Sounds like there was more than a little initial confusion and slow reaction time but an honest attempt to put things right. Good news.

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