Big Cottonwood reopens after avalanche mitigation; Little Cottonwood remains closed

Apr 5, 2023, 5:46 PM | Updated: Apr 6, 2023, 5:37 am

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah — The Utah Department of Transportation has reopened Big Cottonwood Canyon but plans to keep Little Cottonwood Canyon closed until Thursday morning at the earliest due to unprecedented avalanche danger.

According to UDOT, their teams that work in the canyons have never dealt with avalanche danger quite like this before.  

Chopper 5 shot exclusive video Wednesday of the avalanche mitigation work, which we then showed to Mark Staples, executive director of the Utah Avalanche Center. 

“Seeing the video, to me, it really sinks in the volume of snow they have to move,” Staples said.

He said he understands why Big and Little Cottonwood canyons were closed Wednesday for avalanche mitigation.

“One of the very simple rules of thumb we have is more snow equals more avalanches,” he said after viewing the video. 

That’s what’s been happening in both canyons. The video from Chopper 5 shows the incredible size and depth of avalanches that have not only hit the road in Little Cottonwood Canyon but run across the road.

“It just really demonstrates how, with all of the snow we’ve had, it has greased the avalanche paths,” Staples said. “So, even if you don’t have a big avalanche, it can still run really far and really fast.“

The UDOT avalanche crews are faced with more snow than they’ve ever seen before, and slides running in places where they don’t usually see them.

“The situation in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons really is unprecedented. We haven’t ever before experienced this amount of snow, and the avalanche danger hasn’t ever really been this high,” said UDOT spokesperson John Gleason.

On Wednesday, they used a helicopter to drop charges to trigger slides and used a lot of heavy equipment to clear the debris off the roads.

“But a lot of the slides are happening naturally as well over the last few days, and that’s why it’s been so important to keep the canyons closed,” Gleason said. 

“It’s not just the big, huge, dramatic paths; it’s the small, little avalanche paths that historically aren’t the problem. All these little spots are going to cause avalanches,” Staples said.

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Big Cottonwood reopens after avalanche mitigation; Little Cottonwood remains closed