Heavy snow over the past week has prompted avalanches, mountain pass closures, I-70 closures and hazardous travel across nearly all mountain roads. For all you powder chasers out there, here’s what to expect weather-wise and the proper routes to take through the high country.
Weather: How much more will it snow?
Light snow has been falling across the high country since early Friday morning, but we’re really going to start seeing heavy snow around Eagle and Summit counties by 2 to 3 pm today. This heavier band of snow will fall steadily through the evening hours, decreasing in intensity by 9 to 10 pm tonight.
Light to moderate snow will continue to fall, off and on, through the overnight hours into early Saturday morning. Through the day Saturday, occasional flurries to light snow showers will persist into the afternoon, but little to no additional accumulation is expected from Saturday morning.
Snow totals for the resorts and mountain towns will be modest, but on the mountains themselves much higher totals can be expected. Breckenridge will see between 2 to 5 inches, Vail 3 to 6 inches, Copper Mountain 3 to 7 inches and Leadville 4 to 8 inches by Saturday mid-morning. Each ski area will likely see around 3 to 6 more inches than the base area forecast on and in the surrounding mountains, keeping avalanche danger very high.
What about getting home?
Travel tonight on I-70 and any highway to the mountains is not advised, both from heavy snow overnight and already slick roads from snow earlier this week. Travel Saturday morning will likely be slick in the morning as snow plows catch up clearing off the roads from overnight snow. Saturday night should pose little to no problems (so long as there are no avalanches) as we’ll have very little additional snow from the morning to mid afternoon.
Sunday travel to and from the resorts should be absolutely fine for most of I-70 and most major highways, so no snowfall is expected. Avalanche danger will remain high on Sunday, be sure to check with KOAA and CDOT for any avalanche mitigation efforts during the day.
Travel: Which way should I go?
Our advice? Stay off of I-70, especially between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Vail. CDOT has been blasting along the route, but avalanche danger is still very high in that area. Even if you avoid the avalanches, if one slides across the interstate, the road can be closed for hours.
Highway 24 and Highway 9 will be your best bets if you’re heading west. Highway 24 isn’t exposed to many slide zones and it doesn’t feature too many high mountain passes. It is the best route to access the Summit County resort areas and is a good option to bypass the most dangerous spots on I-70 by continuing through Leadville and Minturn. Travel on Highway 91 could be dangerous following several major avalanches that covered the highway there on Thursday.
Highway 50 at Monarch Pass could be hazardous tonight as well. Heavy snow will fall Friday afternoon and create some dangerous conditions.
If you have to drive up, be prepared for extreme conditions and be prepared for extended delays. Keep food and water in the car, have a shovel with you and be ready in case traction laws or chain laws are enforced.