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Little Cottonwood Closed, Alta Residents Forced Indoors Due To Avalanche Danger

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah – Little Cottonwood Canyon was closed and the town of Alta remained indoors as snow brought more avalanches to the area Tuesday.

The Utah Avalanche Center warned early in the day that “anybody going into or near the mountains today should avoid being near or under any steep slope.”

Utah Department of Transportation crews were working to mitigate the risk of avalanches early Tuesday morning after several slides happened overnight, spilling into the road.

“It’s hard to imagine a time where the risk was higher than it is right now,” said UDOT spokesperson John Gleason. “By 9 this morning we had four different slides that happened in the same slide path. So that just tells you just how much snow there was and how volatile the situation was.”

The closure of both Big and Little Cottonwood canyons backed up traffic for hours outside Tuesday morning.

“I figured I’d come get a piece of all the powder today,” said Bobby Ward, who managed to show up just before noon when crews determined it was safe to begin traveling up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

“Avalanches terrify me so I definitely won’t be doing anything out of bounds,” Ward said.

But Gleason said the risk of avalanches was too great in Little Cottonwood. And the town of Alta, which is in the canyon, felt the impact, announcing early in the day that the town was in “maximum security interlodge.”

“When you’re in maximum interlodge, it means you’re in a particularly safe part of a building that’s not likely to be affected by an avalanche hitting the building,” said Alta Mayor Harris Sondak.

Sondak estimated there are up to 1,000 people stuck in his town right now, including residents, guests and employees. People who live there are not strangers to having to get inside because of the risk of avalanches. There was a time last year when Sondak said they had to remain indoors for 52 hours. He doesn’t anticipate being in interlodge that long this time around.

But it is still foreign to people who are new to the area. Sondak remembered a new tenant asking what the sign meant that said they were to stay inside.

He told her, “It means you can’t go outside. She said, ‘What do you mean I can’t go outside?’ So, people who are unfamiliar with this environment find it quite challenging to get their heads around it.”

UDOT crews said Tuesday there was no estimated reopening time for state Route 210 in Little Cottonwood Canyon, but to expect it to remain closed in both directions into Wednesday morning.

State Route 190 in Big Cottonwood Canyon is expected to close at 9 p.m. for avalanche work until 4 a.m. Wednesday.

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