The season’s first snowfall wreaked havoc on area roads Thursday morning, causing at least nine accidents in Pitkin County.
And two tractor trailers illegally on Independence Pass got stuck, which closed down both lanes just east of the summit for about seven hours. That scene was apparently unrelated to the weather.
About two to three inches of snow blanketed the upper valley and iced up roads for the morning commute.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office went on “accident alert” around 7:40 a.m., meaning it stopped responding to accidents unless they involved injuries, intoxicants or vehicles that could not be driven. The alert means the office simply doesn’t have enough deputies to respond to the number of accident calls, sheriff’s deputy Alex Burchetta said.
Two of the accidents were in Snowmass Canyon, including one near the Conoco gas station. Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said an ambulance responded, but those involved declined transport to a hospital.
The state patrol investigated both canyon accidents, said trooper Graham Thorne. He didn’t know whether any citations had been issued.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks on Wednesday said in an email that Independence Pass, despite the snow, remains open.
CDOT “maintenance plow operators are getting a roadway temperature reading of 62 degrees — quite warm for melting any bit of snow that shows up tonight,” Shanks said.
She said Thursday that CDOT works with the best information it has in deciding whether to keep the pass open. It is scheduled to close Nov. 7.
“Sometimes we say in the morning that we’ll have it open and it’s closed by that night,” Shanks said.
The pass was closed for much of the day Thursday regardless, though, because of the two out-of-state truckers. State patrol got word of the situation around 6:40 a.m., said trooper Josh Lewis.
One truck got stuck on one of the hairpin turns near the summit, and the other tried to pass it, also becoming stuck, Shanks said.
Lewis said it took a while to get a tow truck up to the area because of how busy they were with the storm.
State law prohibits trucks longer than 35 feet from using the pass, though the rule is often broken because it saves truck drivers so much time that the average $200 fine is unconcerning. Both drivers, one from California, the other from Florida, were cited, Lewis said, though he didn’t know for what.
Highway 82 didn’t reopen until about 1:30 p.m.
Snowmass Village police helped some motorists who couldn’t get traction on Brush Creek Road near the Sinclair Road intersection and near Town Hall, said Snowmass Police Chief Art Smythe.
“It was the initial storm and caught a few people who didn’t have their snow tires on,” he said. “Our officers had to push a few cars, and some sand was put down.”
Shanks said the temperature Thursday night was expected to drop to 17 and that motorists should expect icy conditions on the pass. She urged travelers to consult cotrip.org/home.htm to check road conditions.
“It’s definitely time to get those snow tires on,” she said.