Published 9:44 a.m. | Updated 5:04 p.m.
Several avalanches over the past week have forced the closure of Interstate 70 and have forced vehicles off the road. And with more snow on the way this weekend, officials say avalanche danger will remain high — likely through the late spring.
“Some avalanches are running larger than they have in the last 20 or 30 years,” said Spencer Logan, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “Some are even taking out forests … We’ve seen several avalanches take out some very old trees.”
Both the area covered by the recent avalanches and the amount of snow involved makes this a historic weather event, Logan said. Portions of I-70 haven’t been covered by slides like this in the last 30 years, Logan said.
“We have had an exceptional amount of snow in the last 24 hours,” said Spencer Logan, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “That combined with strong winds is loading a snowpack that was already near the tipping point.”
On Thursday, a large portion of I-70 was closed between Vail and Frisco after an avalanche. That avalanche severed a gas line, Summit County officials said. Officials used the closure time to perform more avalanche mitigation, bringing more snow down on Interstate. Earlier this week, avalanche mitigation that brought up to 15 feet of snow down on I-70 closed the highway in both directions near the Eisenhower Tunnel for several hours. Another slide Sunday pushed several cars off the road.
Three cars were buried by an avalanche on Highway 91 a mile south of the Copper Mountain ski area on Thursday afternoon, according to the Colorado State Patrol Twitter. All drivers and passengers were accounted for.
Avalanche danger is rated extremely high in Summit County through Vail, Aspen, Gunnison and the Sawatch Range. CAIC said Thursday was the first time that four backcountry zones have reached an “extreme” level of avalanche danger.
Despite the heavy avalanche activity, Logan said avalanche deaths are near the average for the year. There have been five avalanche-related deaths this year, he said.
With more people recreating in the backcountry, it’s even more important to provide avalanche safety information, Logan said. For now, however, officials said people should entirely avoid traveling in the backcountry. CDOT also said people should avoid traveling on I-70 west of the Eisenhower tunnel on Thursday.
And there’s no immediate respite in sight: There’s more snow forecast for the weekend for the high country, which could bring a new round of avalanche danger. Adding that snow on top of all the snow that’s already fallen could mean avalanche season this year lasts much longer.
“Looking a little bit further out, we’ve got a lot of snow on the ground that could mean avalanche problems last late into the spring,” he said.