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Glenwood Canyon restoration’s final phase turns to debris-choked Colorado River

Debris has changed the Colorado River after rock and mudslides came down July 29 in Glenwood Canyon.

GLENWOOD CANYON — Andrew Knapp leans over the railing of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon and scowls at a jumble of rocks clogging the Colorado River. Those piercing piles of boulders — swept down the canyon walls in a cataclysmic rainstorm on July 29 — were rubbing against the retaining wall beneath the highway when flows were higher.

“You could hear what sounded like thunder with all those rocks just rolling downstream. That really concerned us,” said the Colorado Department of Transportation engineer.

Examination of that highway retaining wall in the Colorado River below Devil’s Hole Canyon shows it is undamaged. For now.

“But we are thinking about spring runoff,” said Knapp, who is directing CDOT’s monumental task of repairing and rebuilding Interstate 70 and the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon after the July 29 rainstorm that swept hundreds of thousands of tons of rock, mud and trees onto the highway, recreation path and riverbed.

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Sunlight Mountain Resort keeps hopes up for good season despite snowfall absence

Sunlight Mountain Manager and head snowmaker Mike Baumli makes some adjustments to one of the snow machines which have not been able to run since last Friday due to warm temperatures.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Warmer than average temperatures and a lack of snowfall could push back Sunlight Mountain Resort’s opening day, but staff remain hopeful for a Dec. 10 opening, a Sunlight spokesperson said.

“We’ve been able to make snow on some of the colder mornings up here,” said Troy Hawks, Sunlight’s marketing and sales director. “We started our snowmaking preparations about two weeks ago with testing the systems. Since then, when we see a small window of opportunity, we turn the snow guns on.”

The National Weather Service has no historical snowfall data for the resort during the off season, but NWS Meteorologist Megan Stackhouse said during November the agency recorded zero snowfall in Glenwood Springs and less than an inch in Carbondale.

“We’re in a La Nina pattern, so many of the systems coming through are weak and preceded by warmer than usual temperatures,” Stackhouse explained.

On average, Glenwood Springs receives about 4 inches of snow and more than an inch of precipitation in November. This year, however, Stackhouse said the area received less than an inch of precipitation and no snow.

Like many ski resorts, Sunlight makes its own snow to supplement natural snowfall. But the process calls for cold temperatures, which have been scarce so far.

“In the last two weeks, we’ve probably only seen about six days where we could make snow,” Hawks said.

Sunlight Mountain Resort sits partially snow covered on a warm 45 degree day on the slopes.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Snow making typically occurs from 3-9 a.m. when temperatures are lower than 28 degrees.

“We’d like to be able to turn it on and leave it for a couple weeks like we normally do,” Hawks said. “But it’s just not cold enough this year.”

Despite being among the smallest snow-making operations in the state, Sunlight’s mountain manager, Mike Baumli, was recognized in 2019 as Colorado Ski Country’s snow maker of the year.

In recent years, the resort invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrading its snowmaking operation for efficiency and output. The upgrades included two additional ponds, containing about 1 million gallons each for the snow makers to use, Hawks said.

So far this season, he said the resort has used about 500,000 gallons of water to create the first layers of snow.

“Turning the system on and off right now is much less efficient than we’d like,” Hawks said. “But, we’re remaining hopeful that we can at least open the Tercero Lift on Dec. 10.”

Hawks said the date of opening day could change if cold temperatures don’t settle in soon.

Sam Brager skis Sunlight with his 10-year-old son, Donavin, as often as he can, but he said this year could be a challenge.

“At this point of the year, I’ve usually snuck in at least one skin hike, but not this year,” Brager said, explaining a skin hike is when a skier wraps their skis in “skins,” allowing them to climb the slope without need for a chair lift.

Born in Wisconsin, Brager learned to ski at age 2.

“Even during a dry year like this, I won’t quit for some other hobby,” he said. “You just gotta enjoy the snow in front of you and not look at the forecast as much, because it will bum you out.”

Sunlight Mountain Manager and head snowmaker Mike Baumli walks down the slope on a warm 45 degree day on the mountain.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Brager said his gut doesn’t believe the warmer temperatures will impact the entire ski season, but it’s at odds with his head, which thinks this season might continue to be dry. Either way, he plans to hit the slopes as often as possible.

“There’s nothing like strapping two boards to your feet and sliding down the mountain,” Brager said.

The good news for Brager, Hawks and snow enthusiasts throughout the valley is colder weather could be on the way, Stackhouse said.

“There is hope of a stronger system moving into the region early next week,” she said. “It’s early, and things can still change, but it’s the first hope of cool enough temps for snow this season.”

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

Two downtown intersections to close for construction in Rifle on Thursday

The intersection of East Avenue and East Third Street will be closed and the intersection of Railroad Avenue, and West Second Street will be closed for southbound travel beginning at 6 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 21.

“Beginning at 6 a.m. on Thursday, October 21, we will close roadways to traffic at 2 locations in the downtown area to facilitate paving,” a news release from the city of Rifle states. “Weather dependent, the work will be completed by Saturday evening.”

Parking along East Third Street in front of businesses will not be affected. Several spaces in the Moose parking lot will be used to stage equipment and permit access to the work site.

Slash piles in Pitkin, Garfield counties to be ablaze in coming weeks

If conditions allow in the coming weeks, firefighters from the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit may begin burning slash piles in Garfield and Pitkin counties and ignite a prescribed fire in Rio Blanco County.

Officials said Wednesday firefighters will burn a small number of piles near Chapman Campground and the campgrounds near Maroon Bells in Pitkin County. In Garfield County, firefighters will burn approximately 150 piles in the 4-Mile Creek drainage 5 miles south of Glenwood Springs. They will also burn piles on Uncle Bob Mountain about 12 miles south of New Castle.

Pile burning will continue when conditions allow throughout the winter.

Firefighters are also hoping for a window to ignite the 400-acre Aldrich Lakes Prescribed Fire on the White River National Forest about 12 miles northeast of Meeker. The burn is designed to improve wildlife habitat and reduce fuels for wildfires.

One injured after semi overturns on county road between Carbondale, El Jebel

A semi-truck hauling frozen food rolled over early Friday morning on County Road 100 near mile marker 5, north of Colorado 82, Colorado State Patrol reported.

CSP Master Trooper Gary Cutler said the incident occurred at about 1 a.m. and involved a single vehicle. Eastbound Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon was closed at that time for emergency overnight repair work stemming from the summer mudslide damage.

Two people were in the semi at the time, a 22-year-old driver and a 22-year-old passenger.

The driver was taken to Valley View Hospital with complaints of an injury, but the passenger did not submit an injury complaint to state troopers, Cutler said.

The driver was cited as a result of the incident, but no information was immediately available regarding the cause of the rollover, he said.

Garfield County Road and Bridge crews responded to the scene, Cutler said, with the goal of rolling the truck upright.

Garfield County spokesperson Renelle Lott said road and bridge crew members were not immediately available for comment. Lott said the county was not informed about a road closure as a result of the incident.

Another eastbound I-70 closure in Glenwood Canyon planned overnight Thursday

Overnight work on eastbound Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon earlier this week.
CDOT/Courtesy photo

The Glenwood Canyon Emergency Project, weather permitting, will implement another overnight closure of eastbound Interstate 70 from 10 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m.on Friday, the Colorado Department of Transportation advises.

Westbound traffic will not be affected, according to a CDOT news release sent Wednesday.

“This work is critical to complete the paving of a temporary lane in the eastbound median in order to shift traffic so work can continue on reconstruction of the retaining wall,” the release states. “Previous planned night time closures for eastbound traffic have been successful in allowing crews to carry out this work as safely as possible.”

An overnight closure was in place Tuesday night, also. During the nighttime closure, eastbound through traffic is advised to take the northern detour route, via Colorado Highway 13 at Rifle to Craig, U.S. 40 to Kremmling, and Colorado 9 to Silverthorne, or Colorado 131 to Wolcott/Eagle.

Local traffic can continue on eastbound I-70 from Rifle to Glenwood Springs and Colorado 82 to Aspen. The eastbound closure point will be Exit 116/Glenwood Springs.

Glenwood Canyon overnight closure rescheduled for Tuesday, possibly Thursday

Emergency repair crews are in the process of rebuilding part of the retaining wall between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon after damage from major mudslides in late July.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

Following weather delays last week, the Colorado Department of Transportation has rescheduled its overnight closures on eastbound Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon for Tuesday and possibly Thursday to do emergency repair work.

The work is again weather dependent, according to a CDOT news release sent Monday. The plan calls for an overnight closure to eastbound traffic from 10 p.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday.

There is no closure planned for westbound traffic, but the one-lane section near mile marker 123.5 remains in place.

“This work is safety and schedule critical to pave a temporary lane in the eastbound median in order to shift traffic so work can continue on reconstruction of the retaining wall,” the CDOT release states.

Assuming the plan proceeds, the eastbound closure point will be Exit 116 (main Glenwood Springs exit). If inclement weather occurs on Tuesday night, the project is planned for Thursday/Friday during the same nighttime hours, the release states.

Nighttime closures moved to Friday and Sunday for I-70 Glenwood Canyon emergency repairs project work

Two nighttime closures of the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon are expected this weekend for safety and schedule-critical work related to the late July flooding that severely damaged the roadway.

According to a revised Colorado Department of Transportation news release Wednesday following a rain postponement, the work is now scheduled for 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday into Saturday and again during that same time frame Sunday into Monday.

Westbound lanes are to remain open, but will remain in the current one-lane configuration near mile marker 123.5, according to the release.

CDOT advises that the overnight closures will mean cross-state eastbound travelers should use the recommended northern alternate route via Colorado Highway 13 from Rifle north to Craig, east on US 40 to Steamboat Springs and over Rabbit Ears Pass to Kremmling, then south on Colorado Highway 9 to Silverthorne.

The eastbound closure point will be Exit 116 in Glenwood Springs, but only local traffic should continue east on I-70 from Rifle.

“The work is essential for crews to be able to rebuild the eastbound retaining wall that supports the eastbound lanes,” the original release states. “Crews will be able to safely work more quickly without traffic on eastbound lanes, which is important for reaching the goal of having all lanes open by Thanksgiving.”

Although westbound will remain open, motorists should anticipate a permanent one-lane closure at mile point 123.5 for a half mile.

Several night closures are identified in the emergency repairs contract in order to perform safety-critical work that would be difficult to perform under live traffic. Those closures are to impact one direction of travel at a time, the release states.

“It is imperative for motorists to drive the posted speed limit through the work zone and leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you,” CDOT advises.

On July 29 and 31 of this year, the canyon was impacted by several major mud and debris slides, which caused considerable damage to I-70 at Blue Gulch. I-70 through the canyon was closed completely in both directions for 15 days as a result.

UPDATE: I-70 through Glenwood Canyon reopens both directions, from Rifle to Dotsero

Overnight construction closure canceled

Update: Interstate 70 is open between mile markers No. 87 and No. 133 both directions, from West Rifle to Dotsero, according to the Garfield County Alert system.

Interstate 70 westbound is closed through Glenwood Canyon for a flash flood warning with debris flows, a Garfield County emergency alert states.

I-70 eastbound is closed from Rifle to Dotsero.

“I-70 is closed between mile-markers 87 and 133 EB, West Rifle and Dotsero, also 133 to 116 WB, Dotsero to Glenwood Springs, due to a flash flood warning with debris flow,“ the alert states.

Go to https://cotrip.org/home.htm for the most up-to-date travel information.

The Colorado Department of Transportation canceled a planned night closure Wednesday, Sept. 29 of the eastbound lanes of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon due to the weather forecast in the canyon.

“A closure is still scheduled for Friday, Oct. 1 from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. and now planned for Sunday, Oct. 3., to allow work to take place. A safety closure is currently in place on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon between Exit 116 (Glenwood Springs) and Exit 133 (Dotsero) due to a mudflow and a Flash Flood Warning,” the CDOT release states.

Two minors transported to hospital in three-car crash on 82 westbound near Aspen Glen

Three vehicles were involved in a collision on Colorado Highway 82 on Thursday, Sept. 23. Two minors were taken to a local hospital. Jake Marine / Post Independent

Two minors, including a 17-year-old girl, were sent to the hospital following a three-car collision on westbound Colorado Highway 82 around 8 a.m. Thursday morning.

Photos from the scene show a pickup truck and sedan spun 180 degrees off the right shoulder and an SUV with a smashed front.

Westbound 82 was closed for a short period, with traffic diverted to the frontage road. One lane was opened by 8:35 a.m. with tow trucks on scene in the most recent available information. No timetable was given for full opening.

The 17-year-old was the driver of the vehicle believed to be at fault, Colorado State Patrol Public Information Officer Gary Cutler said.

Information about the other transported minor was not yet available.

The cause of the wreck is still under investigation and citations have not yet been issued.