There are common things that nearly every Front Range resident does to prepare for a winter trek up I-70: First, pack the car with skis, boards, and the necessary après accouterments. Then fill your tank with gas while your buddies promise to Venmo you ASAP. At the same time, be sure you’re stocked up on drinks, snacks, and a few boredom busters (downloading those podcasts ahead of time is always a good call) for what you already know is bound to be a long ride.

The past few years, though, many Coloradans have added an extra step: Check @i70things.

The Instagram account—which was started by Alejandro Brown, a local entrepreneur who works in marketing, in 2019 and currently has more than 180,000 followers—features all sorts of wacky and helpful posts, many of which provide some of the best real-time info about what is actually happening on the regularly gridlocked highway. Followers have come to expect everything from alpaca sightings, to assorted winter driving tips, to videos of flaming semi-trucks.

With ski season traffic jams on I-70 as bad as they’ve ever been, we chatted with Brown about how his brainchild gained traction, why he sources content from regular Joes stuck in traffic (reminder: please don’t use your phone while driving), and what his own thoughts are on the road we all love to hate.

(Read more: Keeping I-70 Clear: A Photo Essay)

5280: How did the account start?
Brown: When I was riding shotgun in friends’ cars on the way up to the mountains, I used to take photos of things I would see on I-70, especially on those snowy days: semis jackknifing, cars spinning out, and of course, tunnel closures. I had all this content. There was one trip in particular when I was going from Denver to Aspen on a snowy day with a buddy, and it took us around eight hours. There were a bunch of cars spun out, lanes were closed, and eventually the state troopers told us to turn around and drive in the westbound lanes going eastbound. I just looked at my buddy, and I was like, ‘I have a great idea.’ Right then, I made the account and posted the first photo. The name has always been @i70things.

Who are the people behind the posts?
The best way to get real-time data is from the people who are there. Our community is an army of reporters who can tell you exactly what’s happening on I-70 and give you photo or video proof. The I-70 Things community is people helping each other. It’s just Coloradoans being nice and saying, ‘Hey, you might want to stay off the roads right now, they’re pretty bad.’ Or, ‘CDOT hasn’t said anything yet, but the tunnel is closed.’ We’re breaking a lot of news.

How has the account’s tone evolved over time?
Our approach is that we all have to deal with I-70, so let’s do so in the best way. There’s a balance with the humor on the page. Sometimes it’s more about, ‘Hey, at least we made it skiing today. We can deal with three or four hours of traffic on the way home.’ Other times I try to be firmer and say, ‘Watch out. It’s going to snow two feet. I really advise you not to be out on the road if you don’t have to be.’ I try to match my tone to the weather. That’s the variable that nobody can control, but it’s the most important factor for outcomes on the road.

I-70 Things founder Alejandro Brown. Photo by Alejandro Brown

Why do you think people enjoy contributing to I-70 Things?
People love to share their content and their experience. A lot of big Instagram accounts don’t give credit to people. It’s unfortunate, and I personally think it’s unfair. With us, if you send something in, you’re getting credit for it. That’s what really builds the community, and that became the goal. That said, I’m rather strict with my one big rule, which is I don’t post anything where people are driving and filming. Safety is one of the main things everyone should strive for.

What are your goals for the account moving forward?
There are two main themes I’m going for this winter with I-70 Things: driver safety with the traction law and outdoor safety with avalanche awareness. The goal is always, How can I help? @i70things takes hours and hours of my time every day, but if we’re helping two cars get off the road that aren’t supposed to be there, it’s worth it. I’ve gotten countless direct messages saying, ‘Thanks for the heads up. We decided to book a hotel in the mountains and drive home tomorrow.’

Have you ever heard anything from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) about the account?
I have a great working relationship with CDOT. They always get blamed for things, but they’re doing so much to help keep our roads open. There’s real value in us working together as pals because we’re both a part of the same community.

We have to ask, what’s your personal opinion of I-70?
I think of driving on I-70 as being a part of a sports team. You appreciate a day when it’s smooth sailing, and you understand that all days aren’t smooth sailing. Sometimes your team makes it to the finals, and some days you come up a little short. But it’s not a question of whether I-70 is good or bad. It just depends on what day you’re driving, at what time, in which direction, and what the weather is like.