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Heavy, wet snow brought much of Denver, foothills to a standstill. Unless you had a shovel. Or a sled.

After lulling Coloradans into visions of an early spring, the month of March worked hard Thursday to live up to its reputation as the state’s snowiest as a major storm dumped nearly a foot in downtown Denver and more along the foothills and closed schools, local government offices, businesses and roads.

UPDATE: Friday weather forecast, road conditions and latest snow totals

Warmer, sunnier weather at the start of the week slid into cooler, stormier conditions. Starting Wednesday evening, rain and winds hit the mountains, turning into wet, heavy snow that then rolled across the Denver area.

More than 3 feet of snow fell at higher elevations, reaching 42.3 inches in Genesee, 39.5 inches in Conifer, 25.5 inches in Golden and 11 inches in Denver.

The brunt of the storm was expected to ease Friday, the weather service said.

School districts throughout metro Denver and northern Colorado canceled classes Thursday and some, including Denver Public Schools and the Douglas County School District, also canceled Friday classes.

Government offices from Boulder to Colorado Springs were closed due to snow. The Colorado General Assembly took a snow day, too.

In some cases, people who showed up to work got to leave early. Michelle Swaisgood was waiting outside her workplace, Athletic Lettering in Arvada, for her husband to pick her up. The business, which customizes letter jackets and other sports team apparel, closed before noon because of a power outage.

Swaisgood thought she would spend the rest of the snowy, work-free afternoon watching movies. “We already have our shoveling done because we are early rising people.”

The storm caused hundreds of scattered power outages across metro Denver as of Thursday evening, affecting a total of close to 82,000 customers stretching from Boulder to Castle Rock and from Aurora to Clear Creek County near Georgetown. Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, said more than 8,000 people are still without power Friday morning, with no estimated time of restoration.

Operations were normal at Denver International Airport, where only about an inch had fallen by  Thursday afternoon. However, more than 830 flights were canceled Thursday and another 427 were delayed, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. Airport spokeswoman Stephanie Figueroa said nearly all the cancellations were made preemptively Wednesday evening.

Travel by ground remained hazardous in spots throughout Thursday, with some roads also hazardous Friday morning. The Colorado Department of Transportation issued a travel alert around 12:35 p.m., asking travelers to be prepared for highway closures and extended delays and to have food, water, blankets and other items in their vehicles.

Interstate 70 was closed between Denver and Silverthorne for part of Thursday. It was reopened to passenger vehicles in the afternoon but the eastbound lanes were closed again by evening after multiple accidents and slide-offs. The highway was to remain closed to commercial vehicles between Eagle/Vail and Morrison until noon Friday, CDOT said.

Despite city officials’ repeated urgings in the leadup to the storm to stay off the roads, spots were at a premium Thursday afternoon in the upper parking lot at Ruby Hill Park in west Denver. By 2 p.m., upwards of 100 people, ranging from young children towing sleds to 20-somethings strapping on ski and snowboarding boots, were swarming the spot known for its sledding hill and Ruby Hill Rail Yard skiing and snowboarding areas.

“When I-70 is closed there are only so many places you can go,” said Lane Parker as she stood at the top of the sledding hill alongside her sister-in-law Autumn Gardner.

While activity was humming at Ruby Hill, traffic was light on South Broadway in Denver’s Baker neighborhood. Several businesses along the usually busy thoroughfare had “Closed” signs on their doors.

But coffee shops and restaurants on Broadway still attracted clientele. Ten minutes after opening, Postino Broadway had already seated two tables. At Snooze, a breakfast and brunch restaurant, eight tables were occupied and there was a slight wait at the host stand.

Those looking to enjoy the snow on the slopes had fewer choices Thursday. Eldora, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin and Echo Mountain ski areas announced closures for the day. Eldora reported 30 inches of snow overnight and snow slides on its access road, according to the ski area’s website.

People were advised to scratch any plans for camping Friday in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Colorado Parks and Wildlife said on the social media platform X that the area west of Golden had gotten 36 inches of snow by Thursday morning.

“We won’t be dug out by tomorrow,” the CPW post said.

The arts also got snowed out. The Denver Art Museum was closed Thursday. All shows at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts were canceled. Cirque du Soleil’s show “Crystal” at Ball Arena was called off Thursday.

A low-pressure system that stalled out unleashed the snow along the Front Range. March is historically Colorado’s snowiest month and it’s not unusual for the Denver area to be battered by big snow storms then. An average of 11.5 inches of snow falls in Denver in March, making up about 20% of the city’s average yearly cumulative snow total.

This week’s storm, though, stands out, Paul Schlatter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said.

“Normally the storm system will slowly move across the Colorado-New Mexico border and just kind of meander its way eastward there,” Schlatter said. “This one is actually diving straight south over Arizona.”

And a “really strong easterly upslope flow” is pulling moisture in from Iowa and Nebraska, he added. “Once the easterly flow gets to the mountains, the eastern slopes get dumped on.”

March snow storms are typically wet, but this one is packed with moisture, Schlatter said. When the numbers from an unusually moist snow in early February are added, he expects this to be the area’s second-wettest start of the year.

Because of the heavy, wet snow, many homeowners tried to get a jump on the accumulation by getting out to shovel for the first time early Thursday morning.

In the Washington Park neighborhood, Ian Peterson was out and busy clearing the sidewalks around the block at Pearl Street and Fourth Avenue.

“I have this thing, so It’s easy,” Peterson said, pointing to his snow blower. Many residents who waited longer didn’t have the luxury of using snowblowers. The snow was too heavy by then.

Down the street from Peterson, Jenn Prileszky was watching as her three children were helping a neighbor build a snow fort. She said her kids heard the snow blower going and wanted to get outside.

“This is our first winter in Colorado so the snow is still kind of a novelty,” said Prileszky, whose family recently moved from Georgia.

Denver Post reporters Joe Rubino, Noelle Phillips, Katie Langford, Jacob Factor, Elizabeth Hernandez, John Wenzel, John Meyer and Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton contributed to this report.

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