Tractor-trailers jack-knifed into a ditch. Small sedans sliding backwards down the hill. It’s like navigating a slalom course of cars stuck hither and yon all over the roadway. What started out as the routine commute to get home had turned into an endurance contest of navigating cars spinning out of control during the snowstorm.
Yesterday Denver set the all-time record high for the month of November topping out at 80 degrees. As I ran along the Boulder Creek path in shorts and a T-shirt, it felt like running during a summer afternoon. But fast forward twenty-four hours, and we now in the midst of winter, with temperatures hovering in the twenties.
Having become a seasoned veteran now of Rocky Mountain winters, I can’t say I’m surprised by the chaos that ensued today after the first snow of the winter hit not only the mountains but the plains and the urban corridor along the Front Range. That first snow just seems to turn the road into a glazed, icy skating rink, much worse than the conventional snowy road encountered in mid-winter. Although, apparently CDOT was surprised, hence the lack of plowing operations along Highway 93, the road that borders the Flatiron Mountains between Golden and Boulder.
As my husband drove home tonight, he encountered the carnage of this first snowstorm with cars and trucks strewn all over the roadway and the ditches alongside it. The hills claimed more than a few victims as 2-wheel drive cars spun their wheels and in some instances slid backwards.
It didn’t get much better as he wound up the curves of Boulder Canyon, ascending the 3000 feet between Boulder and Nederland on icy and snow-packed roads. Many had simply abandoned their cars at some point, perhaps hitchhiking or walking.
Having waited just a smidge too long to change over to my snow tires, I inched my way into Nederland to pick up some milk at the local B and F Market. The snow came down so thickly it became difficult to see if I was actually on the pavement. Large flakes hurtling at me, as my wipers went back and forth.
As I paid for my milk, I remarked to the cashier, “It’s really coming down out there.”
She smiled brightly, saying “Yeah, it will be my first time driving snowy roads in Colorado. I just moved here from Wisconsin. I’m glad I don’t have to take Magnolia. It will be just a straight shot down Boulder Canyon on Highway 119.”
I looked at her a bit skeptically, knowing how treacherous the canyon can become.
“Well, the canyon can get really sketchy during storms like this. Sometime it even closes because of buses sliding sideways or accidents. There’s several times a winter, that people end up in the creek.”
She looked at me, wide-eyed and a bit shocked. I hadn’t meant to put the fear of God in her, but at the same time, I didn’t want her thinking it would be a walk in the park. It wasn’t the first time a new transplant had been given a reality check.
My first winter here, I worked for Eldora ski resort. One of the staff there was new to the area, having just moved to Colorado from back east. As we were getting ready to open the resort, we worked until late in the evening, and a winter storm moved in, dumping 26 inches of snow at Eldora. Totally unprepared with her Volkswagen Jetta and summer tires, she became trapped in Nederland when Boulder Canyon closed. She ended up spending the night in the one motel open in town.
Colorado, winter and its mountain roads had claimed yet another victim. But given the vagaries of weather along the Front Range, give it another 24 hours, that snow will be gone and autumn will return once again.