DENVER (AP) – The biggest October snowstorm to hit Colorado in several years dumped more than 2 feet Thursday, grounding flights, closing highways, knocking out electricity – and jump-starting the ski season.

The storm began late Wednesday and turned highways wet and slushy across the state. At one point, snow was falling at a rate of about 3 inches an hour in Denver. A 125-mile corridor from Colorado Springs to the New Mexico line was under a blizzard warning.

Denver International Airport got 5 inches, and more than 110 flights were canceled. Some suburbs reported up to 10 inches of snow that fell at about 3 inches an hour before the storm moved east onto the Plains, where it caused more trouble.

A 150-mile stretch of Interstate 70 was closed from Denver to Burlington, near the Kansas line, after falling temperatures turned slush to ice.

“There’s an awful lot of trucks jackknifed in the median or across the road,” said Dick Hormann, who was waiting out the delay at the Flying J Travel Plaza restaurant in Limon, about 70 miles southeast of Denver. “There’s a lot of rigs across the road in both directions.”

On the wide-open Plains, residents and emergency managers braced for blowing snow and wind up to 45 mph. Red Cross officials sent supplies to Byers, about 30 miles east of Denver, in case the weather stranded travelers along I-70.

The storm shut down dozens of schools, courthouses, voting centers and even chased office employees home early from a sheriff’s office. Small towns in the mountains and foothills just west of Denver appeared to get the heaviest snowfall, with Evergreen reporting 25 inches and Conifer reporting 22 inches with 4-foot drifts. Two feet fell in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Up to 45,000 customers in Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder lost electricity as snow-laden trees and branches gave way, taking down power lines.

At least one resort, Keystone, announced it would open Nov. 3, a week earlier than planned.

“This storm really put them over the top,” said Molly Cuffe, a spokeswoman for the industry group Colorado Ski Country USA.

The storm also was welcome for water utilities and farmers, as the closely watched mountain snowpack – which provides much of the state’s water – got an early boost.

“We’ve probably got a good three-week jump on the season,” said Mike Gillespie of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, which tracks Colorado’s mountain snow.

Large October snowstorms are common in Colorado, but this was the strongest in several years, National Weather Service spokesman Carl Burroughs said.

“We haven’t had a real good storm like this in a while,” he said. “It dumped a lot of snow pretty quick and then moved on.”

Associated Press writers Catherine Tsai, Kim Nguyen and Peter Banda contributed to this report.

AP-ES-10-26-06 1913EDT

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