Early Winter Blast Kills 3 in Colo.

An early blast of winter walloped Colorado's mountains with almost 20 inches of snow, killing three people, making driving conditions treacherous and canceling dozens of flights.

The storm forced motorists to seek shelter as whipping snow on Monday reduced visibility and knocked out power to as many as 80,000 homes. To ski resorts eager to open, the snow was a boon.

Crews were out in force across the Front Range (search) and the eastern plains placing de-icer on the roads to keep freezing temperatures from turning water on roads into ice.

More than 60 people took refuge in Red Cross (search) shelters in Strasburg, Byers and Bennett, including 21-year-old Robert Wade, who was stuck in the snow for four hours after driving off the road in whiteout conditions while towing a 17-foot U-Haul trailer.

"The snow got ridiculous," he said, later adding: "The U-Haul is pretty hard to handle. I'm used to driving a Toyota Camry. We thought we were in Siberia."

Interstate 70, the main east-west route across the state, reopened to traffic early Tuesday, said Mark Aultman, of the Colorado Department of Transportation. The entire highway had been closed for 80 miles between Denver and Limon, where truck stop parking lots were overflowing.

An unidentified man and a woman died after a van carrying 11 people crashed into a guardrail about 20 miles northeast of Denver along Interstate 76. The road was icy and slushy at the time and the accident is believed to be weather-related, Colorado State Patrol (search) Trooper Eric Wynn said.

The third death was Ginny McKibben, a 73-year-old former reporter for The Denver Post (search), who was struck by a falling tree limb while she swept snow outside her home.

Dozens of schools in eastern Colorado and the Denver Metro area were closed Tuesday because of the storm or power outages.

On Monday, hundreds of flights were delayed at Denver International Airport as planes lined up to de-ice before takeoff, airport spokesman Steve Snyder said. At one point, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all Denver-bound flights for 90 minutes, Snyder said.

Ski resorts, eager to open for the year, reported up to 2 1/2 feet of snow in the mountains west of Denver. Byers, where one of the Red Cross shelters is stationed, got 20 inches of the dense snow.

Many trees, still in full leaf, snapped under the weight and in some instances dropped onto power lines, leaving as many as 80,000 Xcel Energy customers without power at one time or another, said Mark Stutz, spokesman for the state's largest utility.

By early Tuesday, 9,000 customers remained without electricity, he said.

The storm caused a gray, rainy day in Denver, but dropped only a little more than 3 inches on the city.