More than 500 cyclists abandoned their bicycles for buses when they were caught in inclement weather atop Berthoud Pass during the Ride the Rockies event.
Temperatures had dropped to around 34 degrees with light snow and 15 mph winds on Berthoud Pass around 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 9, prompting the State Patrol to close the Grand County side of the pass to descending cyclists, said Ray Jennings, Grand County EMS chief and director of the Grand County Office of Emergency Management.
Jennings upgraded the situation to a disaster around 4:20 p.m.
“I declared the area a disaster for the several hundred people out there, to set our system into motion to start rescuing people,” Jennings said.
Grand County EMS, the Office of Emergency Management, East Grand Fire Protection District, Winter Park-Fraser Police, Granby Police, Grand County Sheriffs, Grand County Search and Rescue, State Patrol and organizations from Clear Creak County all joined in the effort to transport stranded bikers from the top of the pass to Winter Park, Jennings said. Private vehicles were also used to bring bikers down from the pass.
“I’m very proud of our professionals that protect Grand County on a daily basis,” Jennings said. “We made this situation, a bad situation, into a good situation very quickly.”
The Ryder Bus Company from Winter Park supplied seven buses to help bring riders down.
Fraser-resident Keith Sanders came over the pass around 2 p.m. It was his 15th Ride the Rockies.
“It’s the coldest I’ve ever been in my life,” said Sanders.
One rider was hospitalized for hypothermia, Jennings said.
Ride the Rockies said in a statement that it had officially ended the day’s riding around 4 p.m.
“As we all know, Colorado weather is unpredictable,” the statement said. “To all of our participants and sponsors, we recognize your dedication to Ride The Rockies as we look forward to the remainder of the tour as planned. We anticipate a great week of riding with you all, and ask for your continued patience as we focus on ensuring the safety of RTR participants.”
All of the riders had been safely transported by around 6:30 p.m., Jennings said.
Festivities in Winter Park also came to a halt as foul weather moved in. The concert and event Taste of Winter Park were stopped around 7 p.m. due to poor conditions.
“I was still very happy,” said Lance Gutersohn, one of the event’s sponsors. “For never doing it before, they put a lot of effort into it.”
Though turnout was lower than expected, the community’s response to the emergency made the event a success, said Catherine Ross, executive director of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s more about making sure these people felt that we cared about them, and I can’t even begin to say how very much I’m humbled by all of those other agencies and how they stepped up to the plate,” Ross said.
Ride the Rockies, in its 29th year, is a cycling tour put on that showcases Rocky Mountain cycling at its best. Each year, 2,000 cyclists explore a new route through Colorado’s High Country. It is put on by the Denver Post.
“It’s a lot of fun because of the people you meet and the diversity,” Sanders said. “And you can basically cycle with no worries in a safe environment.”
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.