Snowstorms, Stagecoaches and Spring Breakers
High-Impact Storms Move Into State
It’s the late winter storms you have to watch. Like the infamous week in March 2019 when five feet of snow fell in Lake County within a week, closing down every major artery into America’s highest city, bringing things to a halt and putting lives in danger. Now imagine a similar system of storms converging on a stagecoach crossing neighboring Park County, thru Fairplay en route to Leadville back in 1879. No warnings, no meteorologists, no forecasts!
It’s the perfect now-and-then report of high country weather as forecasters predict this weekend’s upcoming snowstorms to bring precipitation to be measured in feet, not inches. Plus, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials issued a “AVOID TRAVELING” alert just this morning (full report below). But it is also Spring Break time, so the highways will be jammed with residents and visitors. Should you choose to venture out, traveling over high mountain passes for work or fun, here’s a page from Leadville’s past to remind you of how treacherous alpine adventures can be – and that’s just getting there! Stay safe, stay informed with the cotrip.org APP, and stay tuned to Leadville Today for the latest in weather and traffic news!
Human Whiplash Chain Saves Lives
Some of Leadville’s more adventurous stories are derived from the short-lived stagecoach days. Although this mode of transportation is a classic symbol of the old west, its service quickly came to an end with the completion of the transcontinental railroad. In the Cloud City, it had an even shorter life; but those three years (1877-1880) were packed with enough harrowing experiences to last a lifetime. Here is one of a harrowing winter journey up to America’s highest city.
The first stagecoach route into Leadville was the South Park Stage Line, connecting service from Denver over Mosquito Pass. It was used year-round. During one treacherous winter journey, legendary Leadville newsman, C.C. Davis, was a passenger. He’s the wordsmith often attributed to the catchphrase, “There has been but one Leadville. Never will there be another.”
His trek up from the city would take 40 hours, though some of the worst blizzard conditions imaginable. Now, for anyone who’s driven U.S. Highway 285 through South Park in white-out conditions, in the comfort of your SUV with heated seats, you understand. The journey can be scary, it’s the kind of drive you talk about for a few weeks.
Now take those same conditions and picture Davis on the top of a Concord Coach, in freezing conditions. At one point, visibility was reduced to a few feet. Before long it was apparent that the driver was lost as the stagecoach was no longer on the road. The passengers made a critical group decision, one that probably saved their lives, recalled Davis:
“By arranging ourselves in a line and grasping each other’s hand, we formed a human whiplash and thus disposed, we circled around the coach in all directions in the hope that one of us would locate the telephone poles stretched along the road. The device was finally effective, and soon we were once again headed in the right direction.”
And they hadn’t even reached Mosquito Pass yet! The twinkling lights of Leadville never looked so good, as they probably will for hundreds of visitors and residents as they travel about this weekend. So whether you’re driving Highway 91, or 24, please keep your eyes on the road, and reduce your speed for conditions. After all, stagecoach travel was hazardous enough!
CDOT: “AVOID TRAVELING” Certain Times This Weekend
With the potential of a high-impact snowstorm in the forecast this weekend, CDOT is urging motorists to keep a close watch on the weather and road conditions and plan to stay off the roads during the storm. While the big concern is the Front Range and foothills, Leadville and Lake County could see upwards of a foot of new snow Friday into Saturday. And for anyone expecting spring break guests, be sure to keep the CDOT cotrip.org app handy for the latest road conditions and possible closures. Be sure to have a full tank of gas, snacks, and (unfrozen) water just in case. If things line up as forecasters are predicting this could be a significant system
The forecast has a wide range of accumulations from one to three feet of snow in and around the Denver region, particularly the western and southern areas. Heavier snow may fall over the foothills and east of the Continental Divide. The most severe impacts are expected for the lower elevations. The storm is expected to hit late Friday and last through the weekend. The last time a storm like this swept the state was in 2003 with up to six feet in parts of the foothills.
Heavy accumulations are possible along I-70, I-25 and other highway corridors in the foothills and the Front Range. Heavy snow is expected along the I-70 mountain corridor to the Eisenhower Memorial Johnson Tunnel.
Here is what motorists need to know:
If you are planning to travel the I-70 mountain corridor for a weekend in the mountains, head to your destination BEFORE the storm, before Friday evening.
Regardless of your destination, get there before the storm hits.
AVOID traveling on impacted roads during the storm, throughout the Denver metro area, on the I-70 Mountain Corridor, and I-25 South Gap construction zone between Castle Rock and Monument. CDOT is likely to close these roadways for safety reasons depending on the severity of the storm.
It is also possible I-70 east of Airpark Road and other roadways in the Eastern Plains may close depending on the severity of the storm.
CDOT crews will be out in force and plowing roads, focusing on clearing I-25, I-70, and impacted interstates. They will make multiple passes on these roads during the storm and will not be able to plow the secondary routes until the worst of the storm has passed. This means many roadways could be heavily snow-packed, making for hazardous driving conditions.
During a significant and high-impact snowstorm, travel should be limited to emergency and essential reasons with the proper vehicle and tires for heavy snow. DO NOT ATTEMPT to drive in such weather conditions unless you have the appropriate tires with good tread. Motorists should leave ample distance behind the vehicle ahead and NOT PASS PLOWS. If you are out in the storm, have an emergency kit with blankets, food, batteries, water, a shovel, and survival supplies should you get stuck or stranded.
It’s best to STAY OFF THE ROADS DURING A HEAVY SNOW EVENT.
For more information on preparing for the snow, chain and traction laws, and another winter storm-related guidance, go to winter.codot.gov
Travelers are urged to “know before you go.” Gather information about weather forecasts and anticipated travel impacts and current road conditions prior to hitting the road. CDOT resources include:
Road conditions and travel information: www.COtrip.org
Sign up for project or travel alerts: bit.ly/COalerts
See scheduled lane closures: codot.gov/travel/scheduled-lane-closures.html
ABOUT WINTER WISE
CDOT’s Winter Wise campaign focuses on education, tools and resources to help keep drivers safe on Colorado’s winter roads. To learn more and view helpful tips for winter driving, visit winter.codot.gov. For specific information about I-70 and other highway travel conditions, motorists can call 511 or check COtrip.org. Additionally, drivers can check Twitter for up-to-date travel information via @ColoradoDOT. For more detailed information about the Traction and Passenger Vehicle Safety Laws, snowplow laws, safety stats and frequently asked questions, visit winter.codot.gov.
CDOT’s Whole System-Whole Safety program has one simple mission — to get everyone home safely. Our approximately 3,000 employees work tirelessly to reduce the rate and severity of crashes and improve the safety of all modes of transportation. The department manages more than 23,000 lane miles of highway, more than 3,000 bridges and 35 mountain passes. CDOT also manages grant partnerships with a range of agencies, including metropolitan planning organizations, local governments and airports. It also operates Bustang, the state-owned interregional express bus service. Gov. Jared Polis has charged CDOT to further build on the state’s intermodal mobility options.
Daylight Savings: Spring Forward This Saturday