- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

DENVER (AP) — Crews fired artillery shells yesterday to trigger avalanches safely before they could pose a threat to traffic on a mountain highway, a day after a huge snowslide knocked two cars off the road in a high pass and buried them.

Eight persons had to be rescued from the cars that were swept off the main highway to one of the state’s largest ski areas Saturday.

Wind whistled through the mountains west of Denver at 100 mph yesterday, producing whiteout conditions and driving wind chills well below zero, as the artillery fire was used to set off controlled avalanches above the highway.

Witnesses said the slide on Saturday pushed the cars down 150 to 200 feet into trees off U.S. 40 near 11,307-foot Berthoud Pass, which leads to Winter Park Resort.

The first sign of the avalanche was a puff of snow on the left side of the highway, said the driver of one of the buried cars.

“And it was just microseconds later that it hit us,” said Dave Boone of Fort Collins.

“It kind of tilted the car and it was kind of like a freight train hit us and flipped us over the guardrail. It was hard to remember how many times,” he told an NBC affiliate. “We started spinning and came to rest completely upside down buried in the snow.”

He dug his way out of the car and helped his wife out. He said they walked away with minor cuts and bruises.

Members of Oakwood Road Church in Ames, Iowa, who were on a ski trip were among those swept away by the avalanche. Among them was Darren Johnson, said his father, Don Johnson.

Darren Johnson’s vehicle was the only one of the church’s four-car caravan hit by the snow, his father said.

Don Johnson said his son was treated at a hospital and released, while a passenger in his car, Peter Olsen of Nevada and a sophomore at Iowa State University, was treated for a broken rib. Officials said Mr. Olsen was the only one still hospitalized yesterday.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Stephen Kemp, said a Denver-area church cared for his group and helped them prepare to return home to Iowa.

The avalanche hit between 10 and 10:30 a.m. and was 200 to 300 feet wide and 15 feet deep, State Patrolman Eric Wynn said. The area usually has slides 2 to 3 feet deep because crews trigger them before more snow can accumulate, said Spencer Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Despite three snowstorms in as many weeks, the area of the avalanche hasn’t been hit as hard as eastern parts of the state, which got up to 4 feet of snow, Mr. Logan said. But the pass did get up to 10 inches in the past few days, he said.

Mr. Logan blamed 30 mph wind, with gusts up to 60 mph Saturday morning, for the avalanche conditions.

The pass was closed after the avalanche but reopened Saturday night.

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