UDOT to close Little Cottonwood overnight as avalanche danger rises

Dec 27, 2022, 10:07 PM | Updated: 10:41 pm

LITTLE COTTONWOOD, Utah — Avalanche danger is expected to rise as the snow falls in the mountains, and Utah’s road officials are shutting down Little Cottonwood Canyon overnight because of it.

At 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the canyon will close to traffic as the Utah Department of Transportation does avalanche mitigation work. It’s expected to stay closed until at least 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.

“When we have days like this where we know that the avalanche risk is high, we’re going to shut down the canyon and target those areas where we think that slides could happen, and bring them down while the canyon’s closed,” said John Gleason, public relations director at UDOT.

Gleason explained that crews will fire a howitzer all through the night, hoping that Little Cottonwood will be safe for travel by morning.

Craig Gordon, the avalanche forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center, said the closure signals that avalanche danger is elevated.

He explained that the warm, wet storm is creating unusual avalanche conditions.

“Snow does now like rain on top of it,” Gordon explained. “So what we’re starting to see at mid and lower elevations are wet avalanches. That’s usually a spring phenomenon. So if we’re headed out for a dog walk, or a trail run, or a snowshoe, we definitely want to be aware of steep slopes that are above and adjacent to us.”

Gordon said anyone planning to leave the ski resort boundaries needs to treat it as if they are stepping into the backcountry. He urged people to keep angles low and avoid being underneath or adjacent to any steep slopes while skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling in the backcountry.

Avalanche crews preparing a howitzer to help with opening Little Cottonwood to travel. (KSL-TV)

Any avalanches that trigger, Gordon said, will break deep and wide and “definitely going to be a season-ender.”

He expects avalanche danger will remain elevated for some time as the snowpack starts to adjust to all the additional weight.

Gordon and Gleason urged people to be prepared as they head out during the holiday week.

“If you’re going up to any of the canyons, make sure that your vehicle is ready to go– proper tread on your tires, chains, four-wheel drive,” Gleason said.

People heading to Snowbird, Alta, or the backcountry up Little Cottonwood Canyon can check their website for the latest canyon closures and conditions.

“We want to be fully informed before we head into the mountains,” Gordon said. “Definitely want to be prepared for our own self-rescue if we’re headed into the backcountry– avalanche transceivers, shovels, and probes. Right now, avoidance is always the big-ticket item.”

You can check the latest avalanche conditions at the Utah Avalanche Center’s website.

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UDOT to close Little Cottonwood overnight as avalanche danger rises