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Mountain News: Continued storms both a joy and a test of fortitude



PARK CITY, Utah – And on into February the blustery storms continued, a source of both frolicking joy for many who choose to live in mountain towns — if also more and more, with each new storm, a cause of growing weary to those who think that summer, not winter, is the best part of mountain life.

In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the roads in and out of Silverton were closed last week for the third time this season. Only slightly less isolation was experienced in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole, as winds blew the snow with a fierceness and persistence described as “rare.” With avalanches blocking several roads used by long-distance commuters, many businesses operated with skeleton staffs.

Blowing snow closed even the road between the big ski area, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and the town of Jackson, for a while. The ski area has received 400 inches so far this year, compared to a season’s end average of 465.

Wind was also the story in Vail and the Eagle Valley, where the first “snow day” since the early 1980s was called for local schools. That there are now far more people trying to drive local roads may have also been part of the story, as the Vail area is increasingly like the cities to which most mountain dwellers like to feel smugly superior.

It has been an uncommon winter, particularly in the more southerly locations. The Gunnison Basin, where Crested Butte is located, has registered more than 150 per cent of average in snow depths. That, however, has been brutal to deer herds, leading some wildlife biologists to conjecture that more than half of Colorado deer herds will die this winter.

Building officials have also been fretting about snow loads. In Aspen, city officials warned that storms thus far could be loading roofs with 58 pounds per square foot of snow. Modern building codes mandate strength sufficient to hold 75 pounds, but older buildings may be designed to hold only 45, and some manufactured homes – Aspen still has dozens of trailers – are designed for only 30 pounds.

In Durango, city officials were concerned enough about reports of cracks at a local big-box store that they demanded the store owner summon a structural engineer. It checked out OK, reports the Durango Herald.

Not so in Park City. There, a section of ceiling trusses over the dressing rooms in a middle school gymnasium collapsed on Saturday, crushing lockers and causing a sprinkler system to activate.

All of this snow has city crews working overtime. City crews have removed about four times the average amount of snow from downtown Park City. Pace Erickson, who manages municipal snowplow operations, told The Park Record that snow plowers are becoming weary. “You can just tell by the body language,” he said.