So this is what a river of snow feels like.
I’d read the forecast the night before. How more than three feet of snow could fall in the mountains over the next 24 hours. But like any snow lover, I felt skeptical.
However, as we rose in the dark hours of the morning to make the drive to Winter Park, I started to believe. Big flakes of snow floated down as Bryon steered the Subaru onto Ridge Road. As we drove along the Peak to Peak Highway, the road became snow packed as the snowflakes grew in size, looking like giant potato chips floating out of the sky.
I knew we were seeing something unique, when something happened driving out of Central City, that I thought I’d never see.
The Subaru actually struggled to climb the narrow 2-lane road leading out of town towards the Parkway.
Subarus are indestructible. They don’t get stuck in the snow. Yet, as Bryon tried to give it gas, it slipped and slid and spun its tires.
Finally, after a few seconds, it gained purchase on the snowy road, but it was a struggle.
The drive didn’t get any easier, when we finally made it onto I-70. Normally, the drive through Idaho Springs is the easiest part of the drive, with very little snow on the roadway. Not today, the highway seemed as bad as the 2-lane roads with vehicles creeping along.
Driving over Berthoud Pass felt like a trip to Antarctica — feet of snow piled high next to the road, winds blowing so hard we could barely see a few feet in front of the car. Several cars were lodged into snow banks, spinning their wheels in futility.
The snow fell so heavily that it maxed out Winter Park’s snow stake, running out of room by early afternoon, overshooting the 18-inch mark since 4 p.m. on Thursday.
Sitting on the chairlift, it was hard to see what runs had been skied. With snow falling at up at a rate of three inches per hour, every run was a new powder run. Snow quickly covered up the tracks of the skiers coming down the hill.
Finally, the wind became too much even for the ski lifts to keep running. One after another lift closed, until only the Prospector Lift still moved people up the hill. But it wasn’t at its normal “express” pace.
“I need everyone to be in groups of four to load the chair!” the lift operator yelled out. I herded my group of girls onto the chair. The chair moved forward at a snail’s pace and then stopped. Our lift ride was more than double the usual time.
We found out why when we got off. The wind buffeted our faces.
“It’s like we’re in a giant snow globe that someone keeps shaking over and over!” my young student exclaimed.
It was all I could do to make sure we stayed together, stopping every 30 feet or so, to make sure no one got lost in this madness of snow and wind.
All this, courtesy of an atmospheric river. Rivers in the sky that transport water vapor all the way from Hawaii and release it here in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in feet and feet of snow.