Little Cottonwood Canyon closed after some downhill traffic allowed to leave

Apr 7, 2023, 6:50 AM | Updated: 12:00 pm

(Chopper 5/KSL TV)...

(Chopper 5/KSL TV)

(Chopper 5/KSL TV)

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah — Utah Department of Transporation crews allowed vehicles to leave Little Cottonwood Canyon for the first time since Monday.

State Route 210 was open for downhill traffic through 9 a.m. Friday. Police also allowed some critical workers to head up to the resorts, but there was no estimated time for reopening the canyon to the public.

UDOT crews said they are monitoring conditions closely as temperatures rise during the day. They will reevaluate reopening the canyon Friday afternoon or evening.

UDOT supervisor Jake Brown described 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,” he said.

The phenomenal snowfall lead to more than 30 slides, and they were still coming down Thursday. One natural slide closed S.R. 210 and forced Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Ski Resort to go into immediate interlodge. That avalanche started on Mount Superior, slid across the highway and entered Snowbird’s western edge, near the Chickadee lift.

No injuries and no burials were reported in that slide.

Brown said this immense snowpack “spells disaster” for the Cottonwood canyons. He spoke with KSL TV’s Jed Boal on Thursday near the area where an avalanche broke about one-third of the way up the canyon earlier this week. That slide started 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.

(UDOT Cottonwoods/Twitter) (UDOT Cottonwoods/Twitter) (UDOT Cottonwoods/Twitter) (Chopper 5/KSL TV) (Chopper 5/KSL TV)

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

The Utah Avalanche Center lists the region’s mountains as being in “considerable” avalanche danger, especially any south-facing slopes like what happened with Thursday’s avalanche near Snowbird. The agency notes that there had already been “plenty of avalanche activity this week,” including in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Multiple Cottonwood resorts have reported all-time snowfall records this season, and on Thursday, Utah’s statewide snowpack surpassed 30 inches for the time on record.

However, the record snow has also come with increased avalanche activity this season. UDOT officials told KSL.com earlier Thursday they’ve had to close traffic into both canyons more than 30 times combined this season because of avalanches or avalanche mitigation efforts.

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Little Cottonwood Canyon closed after some downhill traffic allowed to leave