Fresh snow is forecast in the mountains just in time to freshen the slopes for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend that begins Friday — and is typically the second-busiest weekend of the ski season in terms of Interstate 70 traffic.
MLK weekend usually runs a close second to Presidents Day weekend (Feb. 14-17), historically the busiest ski weekend of the year. The National Weather Service is predicting 4-8 inches of snow in the high country on Friday.
Last year, 28,151 cars passed westbound through the Eisenhower Tunnel on Friday of MLK weekend and 26,642 the next day. Eastbound traffic through the Johnson Tunnel numbered 26,698 vehicles on Sunday and 26,334 the next day. The highest concentration of the weekend occurred from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. on Monday, when eastbound traffic exceeded 2,900 vehicles per hour. That’s almost 50 per minute.
With that in mind, here is some advice to limit the aggravation.
On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, it’s best to hit the Morrison exit by 6:30 a.m, which is the rule of thumb for weekend ski traffic, generally.
“If you get through Golden around 6:30, that would put you to Idaho Springs right before 7 o’clock, and that would help significantly,” said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson. “We start seeing the backups really start building after 6:30 going westbound.”
Friday westbound ski traffic on four-day holiday weekends tends to peak in the middle of the afternoon and can run heavy well into the evening. Westbound traffic on Friday should be considerably lighter in the morning than in the afternoon.and evening, based on an analysis of vehicle counts last year at the tunnel.
“On Friday, after about 2 o’clock, it gets really bad because some people work a half day and then they head up the hill,” Wilson said. “People leaving Friday morning, late morning, it’s going to be much better than if you try leaving mid-afternoon. It can remain heavy into the mid-evening hours, but usually it loosens up quite significantly after about 7 o’clock.”
Eastbound traffic is heaviest on Sunday and Monday, exceeding 26,000 both days last year. Eastbound traffic was only 14,698 on Friday last year and 21,254 on Saturday.