Mid-March winter storm ravaged Teller County, but it also brought neighbors together

Dan Boyce/CPR News
A wall of ice set against the night sky in Cripple Creek on February 28, 2024.

When a snowstorm pummeled the Front Range earlier this month, it hit Teller County particularly hard. More than 36 inches of heavy snow fell across this area just west of Colorado Springs, leading to widespread power outages and trapping residents in their homes. Two people died as a result of the storm.

At the county commission’s bimonthly meeting on March 19, residents packed the Teller County Centennial Building in Cripple Creek to hear about the county’s response to the storm.

“We haven’t had an impactful storm like this,” Fred Clifford, Teller County Public Works director, told commissioners during their Tuesday meeting. “The (snowplow drivers) were out there, they’re working 18 hours a day and you’re checking their health…You say, ‘Do you need a break?’ and they’re like ‘Not until we get this county punched out.’”

The storm claimed five plow trucks, which had engines blow up, axles fracture and transfer cases pop while trying to clear the roads. An avalanche buried one truck, trapping the driver until a search and rescue team arrived.

“From the bottom of my heart, you guys are the last cowboys,” county commissioner Dan Williams told the plow drivers.

Nearly all the steep slope areas in the county were under avalanche warnings, officials said.

Another snow slide pushed a road grader to the edge of a cliffside. Teller’s Office of Emergency Management director Jay Teague said local avalanche experts warned that moving in to save the driver carried a high chance of bringing the rest of the mountain down on top of the whole team. They decided to push forward and successfully rescue the driver.

“We were standing by there, knowing that we were putting someone in jeopardy,” Teague told commissioners, choking up. “It’s hard to make that call.” 

Over the course of the storm, emergency responders made agonizing decisions about where to spend their limited resources. They used snowmobiles to deliver necessary prescriptions and oxygen canisters to trapped residents, and helped a resident get out for a chemotherapy treatment.

County Coroner Stephen Tomsky said he responded to seven deaths during the storm, saying two of those were directly attributable to the snow. 

The Tuesday commission meeting — which coincided with the county’s 125th anniversary — had many of the speakers tearing up as they recalled neighbors helping each other endure the storm in the areas responders could not reach.

“Before this happened, we were arguing about left versus right. We were arguing about legislation. People talked about sexuality. People talked about the school board. And, none of that matters in the middle of a disaster,” Williams said. “This brought our community back together.”

On Saturday, the county reported the five broken snow plows were back in operation, ahead of another winter storm warning issued for the beginning of the week.