Common Ground

The view on TV of the avalanche across Interstate 70 was impressive. I knew the location of that chute on the north slope a few miles east of Eisenhower tunnel. My eyes cautiously scan that area many times in the winter while driving to Denver.

Equally impressive was the shot of the CDOT official being interviewed on-the-ground.

“We’re not in any hurry to open up the interstate until we know it is safe,” he said. Equipment behind him worked to move the 12-foot-high snow pile filled with trees shattered by the slide.

Even in the summer there is reason to be wary. More than once the fury of a summer thundershower has poured mud and rocks across the east side of the freeway between there and Idaho Springs.

“Why are you smiling?” my daughter asked as we watched the news cast.

“Because I’m not there,” I answered. Having been caught between two areas that slid and blocked I-70 about this time in March, it was great to be home watching rather than there waiting.

One of those adventures is enough to last a lifetime.

A few years ago I was driving to Denver in my Forest Service rig for a meeting. It was late evening and it was snowing so hard the wipers couldn’t keep up.

The cars in front of me came to a complete stop not far from the top of Vail Pass.

After waiting about 15 minutes, I decided to see what was up, pulled around the cars and drove a few hundred yards. The 6 foot high wall of snow across our lane stopped me.

A man with a snow shovel in his hand approached the jeep. “Need any help?” I asked while rolling down the window.

“No thanks. We just cleared enough for one vehicle at a time,” he responded. “Go on through,” he said while hand signaling the other cars to let me in front.

At the top of the pass I pulled in next to a big CDOT snowplow parked in the emergency lane of the median.

“What’s going on back there?” the driver shouted from his warm cab as I climbed up on the running-board to talk.

“A small slide about a mile or two back had us blocked but some folks dug out enough for cars to get through,” I answered.

“Thanks. I’m closing her down,” he said.

I got back in the jeep and made it to Silverthorne only by reaching out the window every few minutes to snap the heavy snow off the wipers.

Another CDOT rig was pulled across the lane past the exit. “Can’t go any further. Had a slide this side of Eisenhower,” he said.

Lucky to find one of the last available rentals in Keystone, I slept in a warm bed that cold snowy night.

The entire next day was spent waiting for CDOT to drop charges from a helicopter into all the chutes they feared might slide. Those that did come down had to be cleared. That takes time.

Fear is a healthy thing to have when it comes to watching and waiting on Mother Nature. She rules these Rocky Mountains.

Forget that and you’re a fool.

Bill Kight’s column runs every other Sunday.

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