Powder clause: Biggest snow storm of the winter leads to hectic travel, playing hooky

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was the best of winter, it was the worst of winter.

From midday Thursday, Feb. 6, to midday Friday, Feb. 7, Steamboat Resort received 18 inches of snow, according to the ski area’s measurements. It was the biggest storm of the winter based on 24-hour accumulation measurements, according to Maren Franciosi, digital communications manager for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.

All that snow made for some very happy powder pursuers but also caused headaches for travelers and plow drivers. 

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction had a winter weather advisory in effect until 8 p.m. Friday, warning of heavy snowfall and gusting winds as high as 35 mph. 

At 2 p.m., Routt County Emergency Management sent a text message discouraging people from driving. 

Emergency services were kept busy as heavy snow fell throughout the day, with accumulation rates at times coming in at more than 2 to 3 inches per hour, according to local meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, who runs the forecasting website

South Routt was among the hardest areas hit, according to Emergency Management, with most roads considered impassable except for Rout County roads 14, 15, 17 and 27, according to a public safety announcement. 

At approximately 1 p.m., Colorado Highway 134, which runs from Toponas, south of Steamboat Springs, to Grand County, closed due to drifting and packed snow, the announcement said. Officials were unsure when the road would reopen.

City of Steamboat Springs’ plows had a hard time keeping up with the snow, an effort complicated by mechanical issues. Around 10 a.m., city officials announced on Facebook that three sand trucks and two loaders were out of commission. Working plow vehicles prioritized main roads, so the city urged residents to assist one another in tackling the oncoming snow. 

“We’re in this together so look after your neighbor, lend a helping hand and we’ll keep after it 24/7 until the snow stops,” the post said.

On a lighter note, Steamboat locals showed one is never too old to play hooky. Those lucky enough to do so utilized something called the powder clause. It refers to the policy of some businesses to allow their employees to eschew work for all or part of an especially good snow day.  

“Good thing my boss said I could leave the office,” said Sam Daniels, who works at Honey Stinger,

According to him, the local sports snack company has one of the most liberal snow clauses, allowing employees to take a powder break if any amount of snow falls. 

The thought of taking turns on untouched terrain so enticed Daniels that he bought a First Tracks pass, which allowed him to get an early ride up the gondola. The premier-access passes were sold out for Friday.

Daniels was able to make some runs with few people around to disturb his powder day. That soon changed when the gondola opened to the public and wind caused some popular lifts to close. Storm Peak Express and Morningside chairlifts were inoperable, with wind measurements clocking in gusts of up to 50 mph, according to Franciosi.

That contributed to longer lines at other midmountain lifts, particularly Sundown Express and Four Points. 

For many, the powder was worth the wait. 

Brandon Gregoire, a snowboarder visiting from Santa Fe, New Mexico, expressed remorse that Friday was his last day at the ski area. He had plans to visit Silverton Mountain Ski Area over the weekend but found Steamboat’s snow to be the best he has ever ridden. 

“I don’t want to leave,” he said.

More snow is in the forecast, according to Weissbluth. He predicts a brief break in the storm the morning of Saturday, Feb. 8, before snow showers return in the evening and last throughout the night. By Sunday morning, he expects another 4 to 8 inches of fresh snow. While he predicts scattered snow showers Sunday, Weissbluth does not expect any significant accumulation.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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