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Winter weather arrives early, with reports of a foot or more of snow in the high country

Mountain passes turn icy; Wolf Creek Pass closes for five hours
Clouds lift from the West Needles on Tuesday morning to reveal the snow-covered San Juan Mountains north of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Winter may be a couple of months away, but Southwest Colorado got its first taste of cold and snow Tuesday, with reports of over a foot of snow in the high country.

Scott Stearns, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said an official inch count of how much snow fell in the mountains north of Durango will not be available until Wednesday.

A snowstorm moves through the San Juan Mountains on Tuesday north of Durango, leaving several inches of snow. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“We usually get a lot of reports the morning after the snow occurs,” Stearns said.

Snow reportedly started falling just after midnight Tuesday, with the Colorado Department of Transportation reporting 6 inches of snow on mountain passes as early as 5:30 a.m.

“Our plow drivers were out plowing the surface of the roadways, and they’ve been after it throughout the day,” said CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes.

Schwantes said Red Mountain and Molas passes were the first to receive attention from plow drivers.

Silverton Mountain Ski Area co-owner Jen Brill said the town of Silverton received about a foot.

“We got about a foot in town, and we usually get double up there,” Brill said.

Brill said Silverton Mountain’s opening day is planned for Dec. 30, with heli-skiing starting around Thanksgiving.

“If it keeps up like this we’re always willing to open up early,” Brill said. “Usually for us opening is not about snow, it’s about business. A lot of people don’t want their first day of the season to be advanced and expert skiing.”

Purgatory Resort received several inches of snow Tuesday morning from an early-season snowstorm that moved through the area. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Purgatory Resort did not have an official snow report as of late Tuesday afternoon, but said about 6 inches had accumulated around picnic tables.

“It was an absolutely gorgeous day,” said Purgatory spokeswoman Amanda Anderson.

Anderson said Purgatory had to set up in the snow for this weekend’s USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship.

“It was fun to see the juxtaposition of the cycling event setup in the snow,” Anderson said.

Anderson said with Wednesday’s forecast reported to be warmer and sunny, the cycling event is still in the plans.

“We can only control what we can control, and we’re going to do the best we can to pull it off,” Anderson said.

Snow flurries were reported at Mancos and Ridgway state parks, but according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman John Livingston, the snow was not sticking.

A snowstorm, accompanied by high winds, may have knocked fall leaves to the ground sooner than expected in Southwest Colorado. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Alongside the snow were high winds, which took a toll on some of the colorful fall leaves. The time for optimal leaf peeping seems to be past.

“The cold weather will have a lot more leaves falling this week, and we are definitely past our peak in the high country,” Livingston said.

Horses graze in a snow-covered pasture Tuesday north of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Wolf Creek Pass was closed for about five hours as a safety precaution on Tuesday, Schwantes said.

“We had several vehicles spinning out, in particular large commercial vehicles, as well as a jackknifed semitruck,” Schwantes said. “It was considered a safety closure.”

Schwantes said as winter weather approaches, drivers should “know before you go.”

“We just want to remind everyone that they need to think about their journey before driving out of their driveway,” Schwantes said. “Check the weather forecast, be sure to check on road conditions at cotrip.org, take a look at our cameras and see if you’re comfortable driving those conditions.”

While things are supposed to warm up on Wednesday, there may be more weather coming through Thursday.


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