Damaged property emerging as heavy snow loads recede

“Some of the damage is fairly significant”

The same forces of snow and ice that carved massive glacial valleys like Yellowstone National Park can also do an impressive amount of damage to one’s property over the course of one winter, as opposed to millions of years. Locally, the damaging results of a winter season that produced massive amounts of snow are starting to emerge from under the snow.



Crested Butte town manager Susan Parker says this winter has caused the usual potholes and frozen pipes in town, but due to heavy snow loads some of the town’s buildings have received damage to windows and roofs, park facilities like benches and fences have bent out of place, trees and landscaping have had more abuse than usual, and even the town’s new pavilion collapsed.
“Some of the damage is fairly significant,” she says. Parker says there is definitely a relationship between the amount of damage and the amount of snow received during the winter.
Parker briefed the Town Council last month about potential damage-repair costs. “I said we were already seeing some damage and we need to keep an eye on maintenance money. There may be some damage we really need to repair right away,” Parker says. She says the town has yet to do a full damage assessment.
While some of the damage may be covered by insurance, Parker says, the potential costs will be a big hurdle to budget, as the town has already spent more than double of what was budgeted toward labor and fuel expenses for snow removal.
Some private properties in town have historical cabins and shacks that are more than 50 years old and have bent or slumped, over the years, from snow loads. Crested Butte building and zoning director Bob Gillie says old out-buildings have definitely collapsed in the past, but he hasn’t heard reports of any collapsing yet this year.  “It is known as demolition by neglect, which we frown on,” he says.  
Gillie says the town encourages property owners to take care of the old buildings, but that doesn’t mean new foundations and remodeling are necessary – just a few new supports would do in this case.  
There are also many old buildings at the Gothic townsite, home of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). RMBL business manager billy barr says Gothic has received some damage, such as a snow slide off a roof that took out a porch overhang, as well as window shutters and siding that has been damaged or torn off.
The structures are relatively sound, barr says, and Gothic has never had a building collapse despite receiving over 300 inches of snow annually. “It’s amazing—some of these buildings are like 80 years old and built with 2×4 rafters, but they hold up,” he says
Up in Mt. Crested Butte, town manager Joe Fitzpatrick says the town’s buildings have been faring well, but amenities like the tennis court fences have been bent out of shape and a new section of the recreation path has been considerably damaged.  
Mountain View Property Management owner Paul Hird says most of the damage he’s seen on properties in Skyland is from the weight of snow on decks, porches and balustrades. Some of the deck railings and balustrades have bent or broken from the weight, Hird says. There could be more damage, but, “Some of it is still a bit hidden. There is still a lot of snow,” Hird says.
Crested Butte Lodging and Property Management assistant manager Patrick Seaman says most of the damage to their properties in Mt. Crested Butte occurred at the Chateau Condominiums. “We did suffer some damage… It mostly happened when the roofs shed and ice bounced back in and broke the lower windows. We eventually had to plywood all the windows.” Seaman says many entryway railings and emergency exits have been damaged, and large ice dams also managed to pull paneling off of building roofs.
“This is the first time I’ve seen damage like it. I’ve also been talking to the (homeowners) board and they’ve never seen any damage like this either,” Seaman says. “We’ve had insurance adjusters up here to inspect things, but they have to come back again,” he says.
Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, says the insurance industry statewide isn’t expecting as many claims as they saw in 2003, when a large spring snowstorm blanketed the Front Range and set a benchmark for insurance claims. “It was filled with moisture, and was wet, heavy snow… For us to have what we’d call an industry-wide catastrophe it probably needs to be something like that March 2003 blizzard. When it’s widespread over the winter we may see some increase in claims, but nothing like that.”
According to the association’s Website, in 2003 there was approximately $34 million in damage caused by snow and ice, and nearly 18,500 insurance claims made in Colorado. There are typically less than $4 million in damages caused by snow and ice each year.
Front Range communities may be spared this spring, but Walker says the heavy snow loads in the high country are still posed to cause structural problems as snow condenses and fluctuates between ice and water. “We are going to see the most expensive damage if there’s build-up and we see things collapse.”
Walker also believes some property owners were caught off guard after several light snow years and did not take preventive maintenance.
“We always forget here in Colorado we can have some extensive damage… It’s a good reminder as we come out of a winter like this, especially in the high country, that you need to make sure your property is protected.”
Walker says that includes things like boarding up windows, trimming large tree branches that could fall on a house or vehicle and keeping objects away from the sides of a structure. She says it is also important to learn more about individual homeowners insurance policies, as policies can differ and not all types of snow and ice damage may be covered.
For more information about insurance coverage against snow and ice damage visit www.rmiia.org.

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