How to avoid I-70 ski traffic over the Martin Luther King Day weekend

Now that the mountains are finally getting good snow, the Martin Luther King holiday weekend — which runs Friday through Monday —  is bound to create heavy ski traffic. We’ve got a few tips to ease your highway headaches.

The MLK weekend is generally the fifth- or sixth-busiest three-day period of the year for mountain traffic, as measured by vehicles passing through the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels on Interstate 70. Independence Day always tops the annual list, followed by the three-day Presidents Day weekend (Feb. 19-21 this year), Labor Day weekend and Memorial Day weekend. Occasionally the Thanksgiving weekend edges the MLK weekend.

Despite paltry mountain snowfall until well into December, traffic measured at the tunnels has been running ahead of last ski season. According to traffic counters there, 1,054,040 vehicles passed through the tunnels in December, an increase of nearly 6% compared to December 2020. For Christmas week (Dec. 22-28), 254,146 motorists passed through the tunnels, an increase of 2.4% over 2020.

For the Martin Luther King holiday weekend last year, the tunnels saw 169,031 vehicles last year.

Let’s face it, you’re not going to have smooth sailing getting up to ski country unless you head up well before sunrise, but you can avoid the worst of it. CDOT has added Monday Snowstang service on MLK Day to Copper Mountain, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin to complement its usual Saturday and Sunday runs priced at $25 round trip. If you drive, here are some tips from CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson:

Best times to head to the hills: Friday before noon is usually best, since people often work a half-day and then head out. Traffic is bound to be heavy Friday afternoon through early evening. Saturday, Sunday and Monday, westbound traffic picks up after 7 a.m.

Returning the Front Range: Earlier is always better, generally before 11 a.m. any day of the long weekend.

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