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Heavy snow hammers Vail Valley as avalanche closes I-70 at Vail Pass

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March 7, 2019, 7:57 am

UPDATE as of 7:12 p.m., Thursday: Vail Pass on I-70 is open again after a nearly 18-hour closure to clear an avalanche.

UPDATE as of 11 a.m., Thursday: MULTIPLE MOUNTAIN HIGHWAY CLOSURES. I-70 closed both directions over Vail Pass between Vail – Copper Mtn during avalanche cleanup work (All eastbound CMV must stage at Dotsero, Exit 133.) ESTIMATED 2pm-3pm reopen for Vail Pass. I-70 closed between Copper Mtn – Frisco & Hwy 91 closed from Copper Mtn – Leadville due to safety concerns involving gas leak in Copper Mountain. US 6 Loveland Pass closed due to adverse conditions.No estimated reopen time for any highway. Mountain travel in these areas is highly discouraged at this time.

The good news is Vail Mountain is reporting 10 inches of new, heavy, wet snow Thursday morning, for a 280-inch seasonal total, while Beaver Creek is reporting 14 new for a 259-inch seasonal total. The bad news is Vail Pass has been closed all morning due to an avalanche.

The first avalanche closure report for Interstate 70 came in at 1:16 a.m., and then this ominous alert went out at 7:12 a.m.:

“Interstate 70 is closed from the Eastbound mile marker 176 at main Vail due to an avalanche on Vail Pass. No ETA for re-opening. Shelter available at Vail PD. Interstate 70 is also closed Westbound at mile marker 195 due to a gas leak with no estimated time to reopen.”

The most recent closure of I-70 due to an avalanche follows a weekend of heavy snow (more than 3 feet in some places) that caused multiple avalanches in Summit County.

Arapahoe Basin is closed today (Thursday) due to avalanche danger.

“Due to extreme avalanche concerns A-Basin and Highway 6 over Loveland Pass will not be opening today,” A-Basin COO Alan Henceroth wrote Thursday morning. “We are working closely with CDOT to manage this challenging situation. For updates today, pay attention to our website and my blog.”

A-Basin is buried under snow (A-Basin photo).

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center map is a sea of red and black, with avalanche danger rated as high or extreme across the state. The Vail, Summit County area is rated at extreme through 8 a.m., Friday, meaning backcountry travel is literally one of the worst ideas you’ve ever had and could prove fatal.

The Eagle River Fire Protection District on Thursday afternoon confirmed an avalanche on the Minturn Mile backcountry route off the backside of Vail Mountain down to the town of Minturn.

“Crews are on scene of a confirmed avalanche in the area of the Minturn Mile & are awaiting Vail Mountain Rescue to give us a complete size up of the situation. … ,” the ERFPD posted on Facebook.

And more snow is in the forecast for this weekend.

“Thursday morning’s snow totals are 6-18 inches with the most in the central mountains and along I-70,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Thursday morning. “This snow is deep and thick and there are numerous road closures due to avalanche risk.

“Snow should continue for this same area on Thursday, then stop on Thursday afternoon and Thursday night. The next storm will bring snow from Friday midday to Saturday mid-morning and Saturday’s powder should be fluffier with 4-10+ inches. Then we’re still looking forward to multiple days of snow from March 12-14 with low confidence on the details of that storm.”

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