Mother Nature had other plans for skiers and snowboarders who wanted to take advantage of the recent powder, instead blasting the Roaring Fork Valley with a snow squall that closed the Silver Queen Gondola for much of the day Monday.
The intense, sudden winds hit the Aspen area around 8 a.m. and lasted several hours; in fact, wind speeds hit their peak in the 10 a.m. hour, according to Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of communications Jeff Hanle. Aspen Highlands saw the most extreme gusts, at 57 miles per hour. Snowmass reported 47 mile-per-hour winds, and Aspen Mountain’s 42 mile-per-hour wind speeds shut down most operations in the morning.
“Aspen Mountain’s tougher because of the gondola — that’s what we typically use to get the crews up to get to the other lifts, so we had to use snowcats to get liftcrews up,” Hanle said. “So it pushed everything back. That’s why we were slower at getting Aspen Mountain open. We had lifts at Snowmass and Highlands and Buttermilk open pretty early.”
Despite the lifts being open on Aspen Mountain by 11:30 a.m., the gondola didn’t reopen until after noon, according to SkiCo. About two hours later, however, winds forced another shutdown.
While certainly unusual, it’s not the first squall Hanle remembers.
“We had one four or five years ago that really just shut the whole place down,” he said. “We said, ‘We don’t see this wind diminishing, let’s tell people they can go to Buttermilk or lower lifts like Lift 1A,’ but then it just kept coming. It steamrolled us the whole day.”
Pitkin County sent a series of traffic alerts throughout the morning, too. A few cars pulled off the road “due to the white” on eastbound Highway 82 near the Mountain Rescue Aspen building, an 8:12 a.m. alert stated. By 8:28 a.m., chain law was in effect in Snowmass Village, and the alert warned of “blowing snow with very poor visibility.” A few hours later, at 10:37 a.m., an alert went out reporting a Mclain Flats Road closure after a rollover accident.
Fortunately, there were no injuries in that incident, said Alex Burchetta, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office director of operations. In fact, despite two car accidents and the rollover, the people’s commutes went relatively smoothly, all things considered, he continued.
“Everyone for the most part drove very judiciously,” he said. “The roads went from fairly dry and clear to snow-covered very quickly. It could have been a lot worse.”
According to the National Weather Service, “the combination of quick reductions in visibilities and sudden slick conditions on roadways can often lead to high speed wrecks, pileups, and subsequently injuries and fatalities” in the event of a snow squall.
Nothing of that caliber occurred in the Roaring Fork Valley Monday.
Even the incident that resulted in a road closure was “pretty benign.” Burchetta explained that a single vehicle slid off Mclain Flats Road, and a rock caused the rollover, requiring cleanup.
“Unfortunately, the road was closed for about an hour, but it was drivable after the fact,” he said.
Two pedestrians were not so fortunate — Aspen police called for ambulances in two separate instances Monday morning due to apparent slip and falls in the height of the squall, though officials could not comment on the specifics.
“I can’t really get into medical stuff,” Sergeant Mike Tracey said. “I can say we did call out two ambulances this morning. One was at the county building on Main Street, and one was near the police department.”