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Snow sweeps 2 cars off highway

The avalanche closes a Colorado mountain pass for the day. Eight are taken to a hospital.

January 07, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — A massive avalanche roared down a notoriously steep pass Saturday, burying two cars and sealing the route to one of Colorado's most popular ski destinations.

The slide rolled down 11,307-foot Berthoud Pass between 10 and 10:30 a.m., after most locals had finished the early-morning commute to ski resorts to celebrate fresh snowfall.

Rescuers dug out the two cars, which had been pushed off the road, and took seven adults and one child by ambulance to a hospital in Denver, 55 miles away. Winds were too strong for a helicopter. A hospital spokeswoman said one man was admitted in fair condition, and the others were treated and released.

"It was a fairly large avalanche," said forecaster Spencer Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in Boulder. "We're lucky there were only two vehicles gone and so few people injured."

Gusts of up to 57 mph helped start the 100-foot-wide slide, blowing the 10 inches of fresh snow that had fallen since Friday into towering drifts that destabilized the snowpack.

"The snowpack's like a person -- it doesn't like rapid change," Logan said. "You pile up several feet of snow" and it collapses, he added.

The slide closed U.S. 40, which runs from Interstate 70 west of Denver to the popular Winter Park Resort, until Saturday night.

Berthoud Pass, high on the Continental Divide, is so prone to slides that it is officially designated an avalanche pass.

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

This report includes information from the Associated Press.

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