A winter storm backs up ski traffic on I-70 between Frisco and Denver.

(Photo: CPR/Anna Hanel)
The next time a big winter storm draws Front Range skiers to the high country, they may encounter some new driving conditions on I-70.  That's because Colorado's Department of Transportation is implementing a range of strategies aimed at making driving easier on snowy days.  

CDOT hopes to avoid any repeats of last weekend, when icy conditions on Vail pass and near the Eisenhower tunnel led to more than two dozen vehicles spinning out, snarling traffic for hours.  In a press release the Department blamed bald tires for most of those accidents and noted that the majority of the vehicles had in-state plates.

After a couple years of low snow totals, an unusually healthy snowpack is attracting more skiers and boarders to Summit County resorts, making the traffic situation even more acute.

The Department is taking some steps on its own, including promising to mobilize more snowplows and roadside assistance teams during bad weather, but its big focus is on making sure individual cars are truly equipped to make it through the snow.  Officials are working with ski resorts and rental car companies to have vehicle traction devices, including chains and new fabric "tire socks," prominently available for sale, as well as selling them at chain stations, and even highway on-ramps during the worst weather.

The Colorado State Patrol may also start conducting "passenger vehicle traction checks" at eastbound onramps when the roads are icy. 

CDOT spokesperson Amy Ford says there is an old law on the books requiring mountain drivers to have appropriate tires or traction for winter conditions, although the Department doesn't want to go the punitive route.

"What we want to do is educate drivers to say, 'if you don’t have four-wheel drive, consider keeping something like a traction device in your car so that you could apply it when you need it,'" says Ford.