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With weekend snowstorm taking aim at Vail Valley, CDOT issues travel warnings

January 5, 2019, 8:43 am

Compared to the last couple of ski seasons, Vail and Beaver Creek have been buried in snow so far in 2018-19, but the last few weeks have seen the snow machine slow down slightly, and now the snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is only about 102 percent of the annual average.

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In other words, it’s been a great early season, with numerous powder days already on the books, but the Vail Valley is only about 2 percent above average in terms of snowpack and could use a refresher coat on top of the 140 inches that have piled up at Vail and 118 inches at Beaver Creek.

Fortunately, forecasters are calling for that very thing on Sunday, and the Colorado Department of Transportation is warning holiday travelers still lingering on the slopes but headed out of town this weekend that travel on the Interstate 70 corridor could get dicey, so plan ahead.

More than a foot of snow could fall in Colorado’s southern mountains, with up to five inches expected in the northern and central mountains, according to Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz reported Saturday morning. Vail and Beaver Creek are in the northern mountains.

“Sunday will see snow deepening through the day, with perhaps the deepest powder on Monday morning, and then additional leftovers on Tuesday morning,” Gratz wrote Saturday. “After that, the next storm on Thursday into Friday does not look as strong, so we might need to wait until around the 15-20th for the next system.”

Here’s the CDOT press release on Sunday travel conditions:

CDOT urges motorists to plan ahead for weekend weather and possible safety closures on I-70 corridor

Delays expected due to heavy traffic volumes after the holiday week

I-70 MOUNTAIN CORRIDOR — With a winter snow storm predicted to arrive on Sunday along the I-70 mountain corridor, CDOT is urging motorists to consider heading to their destination ahead of the storm. Forecasters are calling for up to five inches of snow possible moving into Vail beginning Sunday morning and lasting through much of the day. Denver is expected to see trace amounts of snow through the weekend.

“We will be mixing heavy traffic volumes with a decent amount of snowfall along the corridor and centered on Vail Pass which is not a good mix,” said Patrick Chavez, I-70 Corridor Operations Manager. “If motorists are leaving Eagle and Summit County locations to get to the front range for a flight or heading home they could encounter some serious delays due to the heavy traffic volumes combined with icy and snow packed road conditions that could result in possible safety closures along the corridor.”

Safety Closures

A safety closure is proactive and is implemented to reduce the probability of incidents occurring. Safety closures are usually associated with compromised roadway conditions due to weather, reduced visibility, congestion, air quality (primarily carbon monoxide in tunnels), queue backing inside a tunnel structure such as Eisenhower Tunnel, or other conditions that may affect safety.

CDOT, Colorado State Patrol, local law enforcement and emergency management services may initiate a safety closure.

When conditions warrant a safety closure, traffic may be stopped on the interstate, turned around, or directed to an exit. Closing the interstate before an intermediate to major incident occurs (such as a crash or a stalled commercial vehicle) can greatly decrease the potential delay times and impacts associated with incidents. Most importantly, it improves the safety of all travelers.

A “rolling” safety closure could also occur when the road needs to be cleared. Traffic would be stopped by Colorado State Patrol or local law enforcement partners upstream from an identified problem area to allow CDOT maintenance crews to access this section of roadway to plow, sand, or de-ice. As the plows move downstream, CSP or other law enforcement vehicles will utilize a pace car to lead the traffic when resources are available.

With the increased snowfall we have had this year CDOT has implemented several safety closures for Vail Pass.  Here is what a safety closure of Vail Pass looks like in the eastbound direction:

Exit 173 West Vail Closes

Exit 176 Main Vail Closes

Exit 180 East Vail Closes

Partnering agencies, CSP and CDOT will stage commercial vehicles on I-70 and in the Chain Station at mile point 179.  Crews will also implement Emergency Truck parking at Exit 133 (Dotsero) in an effort to not flood more CMV into Vail. The Town of Vail Communications has a helpful document that provides information for motorists stranded during a Vail Pass closure.  The link is here: https://www.vailgov.com/departments/public-works/transportation-and-parking/travel-information

CDOT encourages travelers to also be aware of snow plow operations, as maintenance crews will be actively working to maintain the roadways.    

“In order for our plows to remove snow efficiently and apply sand or deicing agents safely, a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour is required,” said Kyle Lester, Director of Highway Maintenance. “This speed may seem slow to some drivers following a snow plow, but to attempt passing is very risky!  The ultimate advice to avoid causing a crash is simply: do not crowd our plows. When a plow is in a crash it can no longer maintain the roadways for everyone, he said.”

  1.  — Never a good idea! Many plows use a blade extension (wing plow) on the right hand side of the truck. The blade extends the plowing area towards the shoulder of the road, leaving no room to pass. Also, plows are designed to push all the snow, slush, rocks and other debris to the right of the truck. The flying debris will damage your vehicle and obstruct your view of the road.  
  2. — Tandem/echelon plowing staggers multiple plows to cover all lanes and clear the entire roadway in one coordinated sweep. This is the safest and most efficient snow removal method to clear the entire roadway. It is extremely dangerous for motorists to try and pass plows in this formation because you could encounter white out conditions, ridges of snow between lanes or get trapped between the snow plow trucks.
  3.  — Plows need to drop deicer and sand, so make sure you stay back at least three to four car lengths of space. If you’re too close, your visibility is reduced and deicer and sand could hit your car. You also never know when a plow might need to suddenly stop — make sure you have plenty of room to do the same.

Several videos can be viewed at CDOT’s travel webpage: https://www.codot.gov/travel/winter-driving/bow-to-the-plow.  Or you may view each video on CDOT’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/cdotmedia

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