DENVER – Blizzard conditions on the Eastern Plains forced the closure of Interstate 70 from outside Denver to the Kansas line on Sunday, leaving many holiday travelers stranded. The storms spared Fort Collins, aside from some frigid winds.
As many as 25 cars were involved in an accident 50 miles east of Limon near Vona where whiteout conditions were reported. I-70 was first closed east of Limon but after all of its hotels quickly filled up, state transportation officials decided to shut down eastbound traffic at E-470 on the outskirts of Denver to prevent travelers from being left without a place to stay.
"There are horrible ground conditions out there," Stacy Stegman of the Colorado Department of Transportation said.
Westbound I-70 was closed from Burlington to Limon. Also closed were U.S. 385 between Cheyenne Wells and Idalia and U.S. 40 from Limon to Kit Carson. In the southeast, U.S. 287 was closed from Lamar to Oklahoma.
CSU student Gordon Wichern sat on a couch inside the heated Lory Student Center on Sunday evening. The graduate electrical engineering student said he didn't do any traveling over the break and wasn't affected by the storms.
"I grew up in the Midwest," he said. "(The weather) doesn't bother me too much."
Social work sophomore Ashley McDonald walked speedily across the blustery Lory Plaza, bundled in a hat and coat. She said she traveled to upstate New York during the Fall Break, so she was used to the weather.
"I just hate it when it's cold and windy," she said.
It wasn't so simple elsewhere.
Julie and Michael Ward of Wichita, Kan. were thankful to get one of the last rooms available at the Tyme Square Inn in Limon after getting turned away at three other hotels. The weather was clear there, but the wind was gusting up to about 60 mph, a sign of the stormy conditions farther east.
"We'll just go when it's safe. We have a four-wheel drive vehicle but that doesn't make you any safer in this," said Julie Ward, who had spent Thanksgiving in Fort Collins with her husband and her father.
JoAnne Thaw of Newton, Kan., and her family got a text message from her daughter in Denver that I-70 was being closed. They pulled off the road and waited more than two hours before deciding they had better find a place to stay, especially since they were traveling with two 2-year-olds.
"We could have made it back (to Denver) but it's a shorter trip home from here," Thaw said.
After packing heavy sweatshirts for their Thanksgiving visit to the mountains, Thaw said her daughter-in-law headed out to find a store that might sell bathing suits so the little girls could use the hotel's pool. In the meantime, they were having fun running down hallways after getting a little tired of watching "Winnie the Pooh" and "Dora the Explorer" DVDs.
Stegman said it was too soon to tell when I-70 would re-open.
Stegman said the sheer number of cars headed back from the mountains, combined with as much as two feet of snow in some areas, could create problems. The town of Vail, dealing with more than a foot of snow, declared an accident alert.
Denver International Airport, which expected 158,000 passengers, seemed likely to avoid the bad weather.
Two cross-country skiers missing overnight near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness about 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs were found Sunday morning in good condition.
After the skiers failed to come home Saturday night, about 20 rescuers headed out to look for them on Sunday morning and found them near their car. Their names were not released.
Tim O'Brien, spokesman for Routt County Search and Rescue, said both skiers were experienced and they had overnight packs. Up to 18 inches of snow have fallen in the area, which is at about 7,500 feet in elevation.
Collegian staff writers contributed to this report.