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UDOT workers work to clear Little Cottonwood Canyon from avalanches

Apr 6, 2023, 5:14 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 4:16 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah —  Little Cottonwood Canyon remained closed Thursday night for avalanche control for a fourth straight day.

Utah Department of Transportation avalanche workers took a KSL TV crew into the canyon to provide a closer look at the massive slides and the danger that still threatens anyone up there.

There was still no estimated time for the reopening of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Crews were able to open the road for downhill traffic Friday, but only between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.

The man in charge of the road crews in the canyon describes the last few days of work as “hell on earth.”

“Huge amount of snow. People are telling me upwards of 6 feet that we received,” Jake Brown said.

Brown supervises the two dozen UDOT workers putting in long hours to get the road open.

He said the phenomenal snowfall lead to more than 30 slides, and they were still coming down.

“With the immense snowpack already, that spells disaster for Little and Big Cottonwood canyons,” Brown said.

He was talking in the middle of the road where an avalanche broke at Lisa Falls, about 1/3 of the way up the canyon. It started all the way up on the mountainside and deposited debris on the road 100 yards wide, as deep as 30 feet in places, and it set up as firm as concrete.

“So, imagine any type of vehicle, or any type of person buried in this avalanche, how hard it would be to get them out,” Brown said. “It’s not worth anybody’s life.“

He said they are clearing even bigger slides up the canyon.  His crew was forced out Tuesday night when one of their loaders was buried by snow. These are bigger slides than any of them have ever seen.

“We’re sort of like re-surprising ourselves, and reimpressed by not only the scale of the avalanches but the frequency that they’re occurring in,” said Steven Clark, UDOT avalanche program manager.

Clark grew up in Utah skiing these canyons, hearing stories about the biggest snow years, and the floods of 1983. Now, he knows firsthand what the biggest snow year looks and feels like.

“What’s been going on this winter has been. It just feels kind of unimaginable really,” he said.

Now that the sun is out, they have a new trigger for wet avalanches.

“Just because we finished the storm cycle doesn’t mean we’re out of the avalanche hazard,” Clark said.

That’s what makes forecasting so difficult right now. Follow UDOT Cottonwood Canyons for the latest information on when the canyon will open.

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UDOT workers work to clear Little Cottonwood Canyon from avalanches