UDOT closing Little Cottonwood Canyon amid high avalanche danger

Dec 31, 2022, 9:59 PM

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah — The Utah Department of Transportation planned to shut down Little Cottonwood Canyon for the second night in a row New Year’s Eve, amid a storm that was expected to dump feet of snow in the mountains and increase avalanche danger.

UDOT spokesperson John Gleason said Saturday that crews planned to close the canyon at 10 p.m. It wasn’t expected to reopen until approximately 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

The avalanche mitigation efforts came as skiers, snowboarders, hikers and sledders from near and far headed up the canyons to enjoy the final day of 2023.

“Oh, they’re just excited about the sledding,” said Darin Harris from Vineyard.

Harris was visiting Big Cottonwood Canyon with his children. They planned to hike up to Donut Falls to enjoy some sledding.

“It would be nice if it didn’t snow, but what can we do about it,” said Anna Voznyuk, who was visiting from California.

This is Voznyuk’s second time visiting to enjoy the view and the “energy of the forest.”

“We’re just getting dumped on in the canyons right now,” Gleason said.

And with all the extra snow in the mountains comes an added layer of risk of avalanches.

“It’s a great thing for those wanting to get up and enjoy the powder,” he said. “But it does mean that we have to be very vigilant.”

Little Cottonwood Canyon has 64 slide paths. Avalanches threaten more than half of the road — state Route 210 — that cuts through the canyon.

“Which makes it among the most challenging for avalanche control work,” Gleason said.

He said UDOT crews have been busy over the last couple of days. They closed the canyon Friday night and part of it again on Saturday “to make sure we’re bringing the slides down under our control.”

And to cut down the risk of avalanches while traffic is moving through, which Gleason said, “would be the worst-case scenario.”

By Saturday afternoon, crews had determined to close the canyon for a second night and work through midnight celebrations to keep people safe in the New Year.

“It speaks to the amount of snowfall that we’ve seen in the Cottonwood canyons,” he said. “We have to put peoples’ safety first.”

Gleason also said the traction law would likely be in effect through Monday. He urged drivers to come prepared with patience and the proper tires and equipment and to treat other drivers the way they want to be treated.

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UDOT closing Little Cottonwood Canyon amid high avalanche danger