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Driving conditions in CO, WY and MT

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

 

I'm looking for some advice about roads in Colorado and Wyoming in early March. Here's the plan: I'm bringing a pickup from the east coast to my daughter in Missoula, as I say in early March. I plan to pass through Denver, on roughly March 9, on I-70 and head up to Steamboat on Rt 40, then ski for a couple of days. Next I'd go to Jackson, Rt 13 to I-80 to 191 and again ski a couple of days. Finally, on to Missoula by about March 15 or so, taking Rt 33 to I-15 to I90.  According to google maps, Denver to Steamboat should be about 3 hours; Steamboat to Jackson 6-1/2 hours; Jackson to Missoula another 6 hours.

I know it's hard to say -- no one can predict the weather -- but are these drive times realistic? What kind of road conditions can I expect? I'm assuming the interstates will be okay unless there's heavy weather, but how about the other routes? Can anyone give me any advice about what to expect? Much appreciated!

post #2 of 21

Yeah, they are realistic.  But beware that some of these roads are remote , don't see much traffic and might not be maintained as much as your accustomed too.

post #3 of 21

I've driven from the East Coast to CO and/or UT three out of the last five winters for skiing.  Wimped out and flew to Tahoe this year.  Haven't been to MT and don't know about some of the lesser roads you speak of, but all the interstates will be fine unless there is significant fresh snow in the last 24 hours.  Same mostly goes for many secondary roads, although they may retain a packed snow surface longer after a storm.  Any time you have to climb a pass there will be higher chance of seeing snow.  If your pick-up does not have snow tires, you might consider picking up a cheap set of tire chains at a nationwide store like Pep Brothers when you get to the mountains and keep them in reserve since you are going to spend a lot of time driving in snow country.  I did this in Tahoe area recently and would have been able to return them if unused, but had a powder day and needed to use them. 

I encountered blizzard conditions on I80 in Jan 2011 that delayed me an extra night in beautiful Rawlins, WY due to low visibility and blowing winds.  

 

Here is the route I took from Denver to Steamboat in 2012:  157 miles/250 km northwest of Denver, approixmately 3 hour drive. Take I 70 west through the Eisenhower Tunnel to Silverthorne, Exit 205 (67 miles/107 km). Take CO 9 North to Kremmling (37miles/59 km), then West on US 40 to Steamboat Springs (53 miles/85 km).  I gets very rural once you leave I70.

post #4 of 21
You need to be prepared for winter driving. You should be ok, but many areas of your route will be the vast open spaces of Colorado and Wyoming here traffic can be sparse and it is a long way between outposts of civilization. And while recent snow can create issues, old snow and wind can do so as well. In fact, I-80 is known as the Snow Chi Minh trrail and regularly closes due to drifting snow. Just as bad, perhaps even worse, is the black ice that can arise because of blowing snow.

What this means is that you need:

Suitable clothing
A sleeping bag or something to keep you warm if you wind up stranded
Some food and water
A shovel (an avalanche shovel is ideal)
Perhaps chains, particularly given the poor weight distribution of a pickup truck.

There's no reason to panic, but you should obey the Scout's motto: Be Prepared.

Also, I'd probably add half an hour to an hour to those anticipated drive times.

Mike
post #5 of 21
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies! I appreciate the advice, especially about being prepared with various supplies & equipment. I'm having "Montana tires" put on the truck before I pick it up & might as well have some chains on hand too -- my daughter might need them in Missoula at some point anyway

Now I'm exploring other possible routes, trying to work out a way to stick to interstates as much as possible. I lived (couch-surfed) in Steamboat for a while back in the 70's & remember the open country on the way from Denver. I'm thinking of other ski mountains since Steamboat and Jackson are both off the interstate route. I still want to try to pick mountains that are more on the quiet side. Here in the NE I always ski mid-week -- I like uncrowded slopes.

One scenario is to make Copper Mountain my first stop. I've heard it's a great mountain that doesn't get as crowded as others in the area. Unfortunately because of the timing of my trip I'd be passing through Denver on a Friday afternoon, and then I'd be at Copper Mountain Saturday and Sunday. As I say, usually I avoid weekend skiing, so I'm dubious about this plan. I also may swing more to the north & miss CO altogether, pass through WY and hit Snowbasin near Ogden first, but this means an extra day of driving (weather permitting) before I stop to ski. Any more thoughts?

post #6 of 21
Consider swinging north from the Chicago area and visiting Red Lodge and Bozeman before heading to Missoula. Red Lodge Mtn., Bridger Bowl and Big Sky would be easy visits.
post #7 of 21

Lots of possibilities, but sounds like you're considering a pair of two-day ski stops spread across your week and a half of driving/travel.  I wouldn't let concerns about road conditions trump all because the odds are major secondary roads will be passable during your five or six day window in the snowiest regions.  What mountains do you really want to ski?  Since you are driving this could be a good chance to visit ones that are normally pricey airfares, such as Jackson Hole, Big Sky, etc?  Perhaps Steamboat falls in that category for you too?  Snowbasin and Copper are great, but easy to visit when flying into more affordable Denver or SLC.  Maybe plan to hit your top priorities regardless of route, but have back-up plan to visit others near interstates if weather's dicey on exact travel dates?  If it was me, I'd split the four ski days between Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee using mostly I80 and I15. 

FYI, I've never been to Montana Snowbowl, reportedly a robust mountain with small crowds close to your Missoula destination.

 

Reports on recent road trips I've made, including stops at some of the places you've mentioned:

CO:  http://www.dcski.com/ubbthreads33/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=53135&page=1

UT:  http://www.dcski.com/ubbthreads33/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=61449

NM & CO:  http://www.dcski.com/ubbthreads33/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=65614&page=1

post #8 of 21
I'd rather be on route 40 than I-70...so many unprepared people on the interstate. You could ski Winter Park/Mary Jane and then keep on trucking out to Steamboat. Just be prepared with supplies for a more back country route and don't go driving off some spur trying to become a weather channel story biggrin.gif.

Now if your pickup is a light duty 2WD...then you probably need to stick to better weather on any route.
post #9 of 21

What kind of pickup? 2wd? 4wd? compact? I would also consider picking up a bag or two of sand before hitting the mountain areas, for weight over the rear axles if you're 2wd.

post #10 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by MC Ski View Post

Now I'm exploring other possible routes, trying to work out a way to stick to interstates as much as possible. I lived (couch-surfed) in Steamboat for a while back in the 70's & remember the open country on the way from Denver. I'm thinking of other ski mountains since Steamboat and Jackson are both off the interstate route. I still want to try to pick mountains that are more on the quiet side. Here in the NE I always ski mid-week -- I like uncrowded slopes.

One scenario is to make Copper Mountain my first stop. I've heard it's a great mountain that doesn't get as crowded as others in the area. Unfortunately because of the timing of my trip I'd be passing through Denver on a Friday afternoon, and then I'd be at Copper Mountain Saturday and Sunday. As I say, usually I avoid weekend skiing, so I'm dubious about this plan. I also may swing more to the north & miss CO altogether, pass through WY and hit Snowbasin near Ogden first, but this means an extra day of driving (weather permitting) before I stop to ski. Any more thoughts?

I wouldn't worry too much about the roads other than your transition from Colorado to Wyoming.  You just need to be prepared. 

 

Copper is a great mountain and usually is pretty uncrowded even on the weekends.  In fact, it was less crowded than Steamboat last year.  It definitely has more pitch to it that Steamboat, but Steamboat gets more snow and has fantastic tree skiing.  So why not ski the first day at Copper and head to Steamboat that evening?  You'd get to ski both locales.  Just FYI, I'm not a WinterPark/MaryJane fan, although you could do that instead.

 

It will be a full day's drive from Steamboat to Jackson, and there's not really anyplace to ski in between.  I'd definitely hit Jackson -- it is my favorite mountain in North America.  You can then hit Targhee and perhaps drive up to get Big Sky.  Bridger is a good option as well.

 

Kneale suggested a northern route, but I'd go with the southern one if it were me.  Better resorts, world-class terrain, and an adventure!

 

Mike

post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by asp125 View Post

What kind of pickup? 2wd? 4wd? compact? I would also consider picking up a bag or two of sand before hitting the mountain areas, for weight over the rear axles if you're 2wd.

ditto, and what kind of tires???  If you have some good all terrain tires and center some of your bags over the real wheels then you will be fine, unless you plan on going off road in deep snow without 4x4.   You can always pick up tubes of sand in denver and throw 2 of them in the back of the bed for extra weight, (home depot usually has them).  

post #12 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by habacomike View Post

Copper is a great mountain and usually is pretty uncrowded even on the weekends.  In fact, it was less crowded than Steamboat last year.  It definitely has more pitch to it that Steamboat, but Steamboat gets more snow and has fantastic tree skiing.  So why not ski the first day at Copper and head to Steamboat that evening?  You'd get to ski both locales.  Just FYI, I'm not a WinterPark/MaryJane fan, although you could do that instead

Agreed, Copper is an equal midway point, i.e. you don't save anything meaningful by picking up 40 at Empire, and Berthoud is maybe to be avoided for weather concerns.
post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 

Wow, thanks for all the feedback! I've talked to some people in Missoula about tires & done some research -- I'm having a new set of Michelin all-season tires put on the truck, and I might get a couple of cargo bars before taking off to hold some sand bags in place over the rear axle if I need them (my daughter in Missoula, who I'm taking the truck to, can use them anyway). The truck is 2W/4W hi & low, so that's good. Kneale's suggestion about swinging north to stop at Red Lodge, Bridger & Big Sky got me thinking, and Jamesj's point about various mountains' proximity to airports is a good one. Snowbasin being near SLC, for example -- we very often fly through SLC to get to Missoula when we visit our daughter, so one of these trips it would be easy to plan a stopover there. I've heard good things about Red Lodge (I ski Whitefish often and met a couple of guys from Red Lodge there once), and I have been wanting to check out Big Sky. Another thing I like about going by way of Red Lodge is I can get the bulk of the driving out of the way in the first 4 days -- once I hit Red Lodge it's only another 5 hours or so if I went straight to Missoula. I can take my time & be a little more spontaneous after that. On the other hand, the idea of a day at Copper, a day at Steamboat, maybe on to Jackson and/or Targhee... Well, got some stuff to think about. This is a nice problem to have!

post #14 of 21
Thread Starter 

Hey Jamesj -- thanks for your thoughts! I just took a quick look at the trip reports you gave links to; I'll go over them in the next few days. Looks like a lot of info in those! 

post #15 of 21

My only suggestion if you come through Steamboat... if you go Steamboat to Jackson, do the drive during the day.  The section between Craig and 80 sucks at night, unless you want 500 rabbit carcasses (and potentially deer) plastered on your bumper.  The 80 section to Rock Springs can also be brutal (and oftentimes closed) if it's bad weather.  Also if you're driving a gas guzzler, top off the tank in Craig or Baggs... a whole lot of nothing for long stretches on that drive.  I've done the Steamboat-Jackson drive a bunch of times and it's not bad but I'd estimate closer to 7hrs.  If you want to head to Red Lodge, you could go from Steamboat through Rawlins to Cody and ski the little ski area Sleeping Giant outside of Cody, but it's a really boring drive.

post #16 of 21
Just a suggestion if you haven't committed to the Michelins yet...take a look at the Hankook Dynapro ATM. Excellent winter / all terrain tire and will probably save you some coin. There are some other good choices...if you are getting Michelin LTX...that is really a M+S tire and you can do way better at that price point to have a tire that will have some capability to spare without causing any NVH issues on the long dry highway stretches.
post #17 of 21
Thread Starter 

NayBreak -- Thanks for that! Funny you mention the Hankooks -- I took a close look at those exact tires. I really liked them but went with the Michie LTX M/S2's (M/S I know means mud & snow) mainly because I felt like they'd handle a little better, and they're warrantied for 70K as opposed to 55K for the Hankooks. The Hankooks have a more aggressive tread than the Michies & I was a little worried because of that they wouldn't do quite as good on dry pavement. Consumer Reports gives the MIchelins a 72 to the Hankook's 64, for what that's worth. This truck is going to be my daughter's first vehicle & we were looking for a solid year-round tire for Missoula, something that would do well in bad weather & on backroads (she boards, rock climbs, likes to camp) but still be good in town. I take it you've driven the Hankooks -- how do they feel? Do they stop well on pavement, wet or dry? Any noise or handling issues? BTW I did get a good price on the Michies.

post #18 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by tam View Post

My only suggestion if you come through Steamboat... if you go Steamboat to Jackson, do the drive during the day.  The section between Craig and 80 sucks at night, unless you want 500 rabbit carcasses (and potentially deer) plastered on your bumper.  The 80 section to Rock Springs can also be brutal (and oftentimes closed) if it's bad weather.  Also if you're driving a gas guzzler, top off the tank in Craig or Baggs... a whole lot of nothing for long stretches on that drive.  I've done the Steamboat-Jackson drive a bunch of times and it's not bad but I'd estimate closer to 7hrs.  If you want to head to Red Lodge, you could go from Steamboat through Rawlins to Cody and ski the little ski area Sleeping Giant outside of Cody, but it's a really boring drive.

 

+1.  The road from Craig to Baggs is a fur-lined highway.  Stay away from dawn or dusk driving in that area.  7.5 hours to get from Steamboat to Jackson is realistic.  You can haul from Creston Jct through Rock Springs to Pinedale, but then the critters and snow floor driving will slow you down as you get closer to Jackson.

 

Check out www.wyoroad.info for road conditions, closures, and web cams galore.

post #19 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by MC Ski View Post

NayBreak -- Thanks for that! Funny you mention the Hankooks -- I took a close look at those exact tires. I really liked them but went with the Michie LTX M/S2's (M/S I know means mud & snow) mainly because I felt like they'd handle a little better, and they're warrantied for 70K as opposed to 55K for the Hankooks. The Hankooks have a more aggressive tread than the Michies & I was a little worried because of that they wouldn't do quite as good on dry pavement. Consumer Reports gives the MIchelins a 72 to the Hankook's 64, for what that's worth. This truck is going to be my daughter's first vehicle & we were looking for a solid year-round tire for Missoula, something that would do well in bad weather & on backroads (she boards, rock climbs, likes to camp) but still be good in town. I take it you've driven the Hankooks -- how do they feel? Do they stop well on pavement, wet or dry? Any noise or handling issues? BTW I did get a good price on the Michies.

Consumer Reports is pretty clueless about these things. My tires are a lot ( a LOT ) more aggressive than the Hankooks...I spend a lot of time offroad and in severe conditions and have some friends who run the Hankooks on their family trucks with very favorable impressions. I am 42 with four kids...I am conservative about safety FWIW in terms of perspective...I like more aggressive tires because they have far more capability across a broad range of conditions. Dry roads have traction and it is a pickup...any of these tires will likely outperform the truck in handling/stopping.

In any case, tread life isn't always something to be maximized. A tire is best in the first 2-3 years, and after that the compound hardens and performance declines along with an increased risk of sudden failures. It might take 10 years or more to realize a 70K warranty unless she drives out of town regularly, and that is way past the prime life of any tire, plus prorated warranties lose value in a hurry.

If she stays in town and hits the local mountains, I think the best tire out there is the Goodyear Duratrac, and it is a tire designed for pickups. I recommended the Hankook for you based on your drive...but it is a mild tire for a mountain town. I know a lot of people who run the Duratrac on their $50K family Land Cruisers over long highway miles...commute to work and serious offroad use and a great winter tire. If she gets offroad to her fav spots things like sidewall strength should be factored.

Having said all of this, I totally get your approach. It depends on which way you want to be conservative. I think a truly highway biased like the LTX is a bit of a waste in a smallish mountain town and it gives up a lot of capabilty for the adventurous...but then my little girl is only 8 biggrin.gif. PM me if you want to discuss...I spend a lot of time with tire performance in the mountains but have to maintain solid family use year round...and I don't want to turn this into a tire thread.

It can be hard to make the leap to more aggressive tires, but it is much like the skier on a 90mm+ ski who realizes they can still rail groomers while opening up the whole mountain...
post #20 of 21
Thread Starter 

Anyone have any advice about passing through Denver on a Friday afternoon, headed for Copper Mountain? I've read that traffic is slow between 4 and 7 pm on a Friday. If I go that route I wonder if it's worth getting a VERY early start that day to pass by Denver  before that time frame. At this point, looking at the weather passing through the middle of the country, I'm thinking I'll plan a few different itineraries with various routes and different picks for ski destinations so I can be flexible once I'm underway.

post #21 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by MC Ski View Post

Anyone have any advice about passing through Denver on a Friday afternoon, headed for Copper Mountain? I've read that traffic is slow between 4 and 7 pm on a Friday. If I go that route I wonder if it's worth getting a VERY early start that day to pass by Denver  before that time frame. At this point, looking at the weather passing through the middle of the country, I'm thinking I'll plan a few different itineraries with various routes and different picks for ski destinations so I can be flexible once I'm underway.

 

Yeah, pretty much rush hour gridlock followed by weekend skier gridlock up to Summit County. But if you can afford to stop, have supper, things clear out pretty well after 7pm. Saturday morning skier gridlock isn't much better unless you get out of town before 8am.

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