Image: Trucks stuck in snow
Felicia Fonseca  /  AP
Semi-trucks line up over a bridge in Bellemont, Ariz., on Thursday after blizzard conditions shut down Interstate 40 for hours.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/30/2010 5:50:42 PM ET 2010-12-30T22:50:42

Denver and other parts of Colorado as well as New Mexico were getting hammered Thursday by a winter storm system tied to the deaths of a snowboarder and a snowmobiler — and to a nearly 100 vehicle pile-up in North Dakota.

Multiple accidents were reported around Denver ahead of the heaviest snow, which was set to fall overnight in blizzard conditions.

Southwestern New Mexico, for its part, was already seeing blizzard conditions.

The snowboarder's body was recovered Thursday at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Shawnte Marie Willis, who became separated from friends Tuesday afternoon, was found dead by search teams that had earlier postponed the search due to high winds and snow danger. Her body was found in a tree well and preliminary evidence suggests she had crashed, police said.

Willis, 25, was last seen snowboarding through ski boundary signs near the top of an advanced slope, resort spokeswoman Rachel Woods told the Sacramento Bee.

In Idaho, a snowmobiler's body was recovered from the site of an avalanche near the town of Calder.

The storm system had earlier shut down major roads in Arizona and blasted California and Nevada with frigid winds. Heavy snow fell in some mountainous regions on Wednesday and rains soaked lower elevations, cutting power to thousands and causing numerous traffic tie-ups and accidents.

Below's an overview by state.

Colorado
Storms were expected to dump up to 2 feet of snow in Colorado's mountains before things calm down Friday.

Snow could fall at a rate close to an inch an hour starting Thursday evening in the Denver area, which usually has around 25 inches of snow by this time of the season but had just 1.5 inches before Thursday.

By Friday, Denver could get up to 10 inches.

The Silverton Mountain resort in Colorado reported 22 inches of snow, but only about 120 people were on the mountain because officials closed highways leading to the ski area for avalanche control and because of adverse conditions.

R.A. Burrell of Colorado Springs left home around 3 a.m. to avoid getting stuck on the way to the extreme ski area and made it before the lift started running.

"I thought we'd really just come on a magical day, which is what it turned out to be," he said during a break from making turns. "We just got lucky."

New Mexico
Blizzard conditions were forecast to continue through midnight Thursday. Winds of up to 65 mph, heavy snow and rapidly falling temperatures made travel difficult if not impossible, forecasters said.

North Dakota
Parts of Interstates 94 and 29 in North Dakota were closed Thursday due to blizzard conditions. Earlier nearly 100 vehicles were involved in a pile-up on I-94, KVLY TV reported. It was not clear if anyone was injured.

Arizona
Phoenix was bracing for freezing overnight temperatures, a rarity in the desert city. Inmates housed at the city's Tent City jail facility were being issued extra blankets and pink thermal underwear — part of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's odd method for punishing prisoners.

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Late Wednesday, snow and ice closed Interstates 40 and 17, the two major thoroughfares in northern Arizona, stranding motorists south of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon until Thursday afternoon.

People in Phoenix were stunned at the sight of snow-type flurries that the National Weather Service said were a combination of hail and snow that melts before it hits the ground.

Drivers wanting to know how to get around the storms overwhelmed an Arizona hotline that provides automated updates on road conditions. The line took in 60,000 calls in an 8-hour span Thursday morning.

Dorothy Brooks of Dallas was creeping along I-40 at 20 mph on Thursday on her way to Las Vegas, passing vehicles stuck on the side of the road, when she pulled into a Bellemont gas station to wait out the storm.

"It's devastating," she said above the cry of a 9-month-old baby she was pushing through the aisles. "You can't call Mother Nature anyway. You never know when she's going to burst out."

Gordon Mason of Rockford, Ill., was taking it all in stride. The 62-year-old semi-truck driver was browsing through movies at a travel center in Arizona, grateful that something was open to occupy his time.

"The way the lot is, it's going to take a while to clear the trucks so the rest of us could get out," he said. "I'm not even going to try until tomorrow."

The snow left visibility down to a half-mile around the Grand Canyon and a quarter-mile in Flagstaff.

Video: Wild weather wreaks havoc out West (on this page)

California
The latest round of rain to hit waterlogged California on Wednesday left powerful winds in its wake.

Snow also forced California transportation officials to close Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where winds were gusting to more than 40 mph. The freeway was shut down from Halloran Springs to the Nevada state line but reopened early Thursday with highway patrol officers escorting motorists.

Gusts of more than 50 mph hit parts of northern Los Angeles County late Wednesday, with colder air and potentially damaging winds expected overnight.

The California Highway Patrol reported downed trees and tumbleweeds on various Los Angeles-area freeways and streets, making it treacherous for motorists.

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The rain and heavy wind were blamed for the death of a woman camping with her 7-year-old granddaughter at a wildlife preserve in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

A 100-foot oak tree came down on Gayle Falgoust's tent at the Safari West Wildlife Preserve near Santa Rosa round 9 p.m. Tuesday, authorities and preserve officials said.

Winds were even stronger farther east.

Utility crews worked to restore power to more than 10,000 homes and businesses around South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

A 105 mph gust was recorded at Mammoth Mountain ski resort farther south.

Weather.com: Conditions, forecasts across the nation

Nevada
The storm socked the Sierra Nevada with gusts topping 100 mph and more than a foot of snow on Wednesday, causing flight delays in Reno, Nev., and headaches for motorists.

Idaho
Blizzard conditions blew through Palouse, near the Idaho line. Wind gusts of more than 30 mph "will create white-out conditions over the rural areas of the Palouse. Travel will be dangerous or impossible," the National Weather Service said.

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A camping Boy Scout troop had to be rescued after a snowstorm stranded them near Pocatello, Idaho. The seven boys and three adults had planned to spend Tuesday night at Lariat Cave but were unable to get out, Power County Sheriff Jim Jeffries said. They called for help Wednesday morning and responders brought them out by snowmobile several hours later.

Washington
Heavy snow and icy roads made travel tough in the Spokane area of eastern Washington, which was hit by 9 inches of snow, while knocking out power to 6,000 customers.

Video: Latest forecast for severe weather (on this page)

Wyoming
Jackson Hole, Wyo., had several inches of snow with higher totals in the mountains. Winter storm warnings were in effect from Yellowstone and Teton National Parks.

An American Airlines jetliner went past the end of a snowy runway at Jackson Hole Airport on Wednesday. No one was hurt and no cause has yet been officially determined. The pilot blamed brake failure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Video: Weather made snowboarder rescue ‘impossible’

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