- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

DENVER (AP) — Thousands of travelers heading to ski areas for the holiday weekend were stalled by extensive traffic jams yesterday as highways were blocked by crews removing snowslides.

One avalanche at Berthoud Pass on Highway 40, the main road to the Winter Park ski resort, knocked a state maintenance vehicle off the road during the night, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said.

That pass was the scene of an avalanche last month that knocked two vehicles off the road and stranded several motorists. No injuries were reported because of snowslides or avalanche mitigation.

Elsewhere, avalanche crews firing explosive charges to break up potential avalanches dislodged a massive slide that buried Interstate 70, the main access from Denver and the urban Front Range corridor to many of the state’s major ski resorts, including Vail and Aspen.

“We’ve just gotten so much snow up there in the last two days,” Miss Stegman said. “This is one of the biggest ski weekends of the year. We would love to keep the highway open. It’s just so much snow.”

By the time officials reopened I-70 shortly after 10 a.m., the traffic jam stretched east for 10 miles, she said.

The storm, which had moved out of the state yesterday, piled up as much as 18 inches of snow in the mountains, Miss Stegman said.

The storm also blasted the metropolitan area with winds as high as 100 mph.

At Denver International Airport, officials were still “baffled” yesterday by cracks that formed during the storm in the windshields of 12 airliners, airport spokesman Steve Snyder said.

Investigators had found no evidence of windblown debris that could have caused the cracks, which delayed some flights, Mr. Snyder said.

No emergencies were declared, and no injuries were reported.

Windshields were cracked on two Frontier airliners while they were airborne near Denver, and two others were cracked while the planes were on the ground, said Joe Hodas, spokesman for Denver-based Frontier Airlines.

Airplane windshields are heavily reinforced, designed to handle travel at hundreds of miles per hour and even survive collisions with birds, Mr. Hodas said.

“It’s truly bizarre,” he said.

SkyWest Airlines reported cracked windshields on eight planes that were taking off or landing Friday, spokeswoman Marissa Snow said. One plane’s windshield cracked while it was airborne.

Elsewhere, a twin-engine Cessna crashed during a snowstorm southeast of the airport at Council Bluffs, Iowa, killing at least three persons late Friday, officials said.

The cause of the crash was not yet known. The National Weather Service said a fast-moving storm was pushing through the area with snow, wind gusts of up to 53 mph and poor visibility.

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