High avalanche danger keeps Little Cottonwood Canyon closed a second night

Jan 1, 2023, 10:09 PM | Updated: 10:50 pm

For the second night in a row, Mother Nature is calling the shots in Little Cottonwood Canyon, despite UDOT firing many shots into the hillside with a howitzer cannon and other explosives all day Sunday.

“The avalanche danger is just too high,” said John Gleason, public relations director at UDOT. “We’re not going to take any chances with safety.”

He said they want to make sure their crews are the ones triggering slides and bringing avalanches down when the canyon is closed. Video posted to Twitter Sunday shows a slide crashing down the hillside toward the road.

Snowbird and Alta ski resorts announced they would each stay closed Sunday because of the high avalanche danger. Kelsey James, creative marketing manager at Snowbird, said Sunday that the snow they’re seeing is much heavier and has a higher water content than what they’re used to.

“Our teams were working on terrain and lift openings today, and conditions did not prove safe to open,” she wrote, in a message. “We’ll reassess in the morning with the hope to safely open to skiing and riding!”
Gleason said everyone is making sure they’re on the same page.

“We want to make sure that everyone is safe. And people want to get up and enjoy themselves on the slopes, and we want people to be able to do that, but it’s got to be a safe situation and today the avalanche danger was just too high,” he said.

Snowbird prepares for 3 to 6 feet of snowfall on the slopes

As the slides came crashing down, a couple hundred vehicle crashes popped up on roads across the state that Utah Highway Patrol responded to on Sunday.

Lieutenant Terry Buck said they had to call in more troopers on the holiday.

“We’re still seeing people traveling at high rates of speed– 70 miles plus– in these conditions,” he said, adding that it, “isn’t safe especially with all the slush and ice buildup.”

They responded to five times the number of crashes and double the number of calls compared to a normal day, he said, and Lt. Buck didn’t expect conditions Monday to be much better.

“We’re not expecting it to slow down much, so we’re hoping that everybody else will do that for us– slow down as they drive and keep good distance,” he said.

Lt. Buck and Gleason each said people driving Monday should try to hold off travel if they can, or leave later in the day.

UDOT will also stay busy Monday, including more avalanche control work in Little Cottonwood Canyon. They’re hoping to reopen the canyon Monday, but it’s still up in the air.

Alta ski resort said they are on standby, and Snowbird will need to reassess.

“We’re going to keep it closed, get that avalanche control work done,” Gleason said. “So that we can bring down the slides under our control and not when the canyon’s open and there’s live traffic moving through there. That would be the worst-case scenario.”

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High avalanche danger keeps Little Cottonwood Canyon closed a second night