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Unified police ready for canyon closures, crashes, and slide-offs this weekend

Jan 12, 2024, 10:21 PM | Updated: 10:25 pm

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — Unified police officers helped close Little Cottonwood at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, and they also got ready for a busy weekend in neighboring canyons.

The canyon roads were clear as officer Aaron Omer drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon Friday evening. A line of cars quickly drove down from fresh pow, passing him on the mostly snow-free pavement.

“Thankfully, it’s not too bad right now,” he said, looking toward the windshield.

KSL TV rode along with Omer Friday evening as he talked about the wide range of situations that could unfold during the holiday weekend storms.

Unified police officer Aaron Omer as he drives through Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Unified police officer Aaron Omer as he drives through Big Cottonwood Canyon. (KSL TV)

Omer said traction law restrictions have been in place continuously for the last few days because of snowfall. With massive snowstorms moving in, he’s expecting things to pick up again this weekend.

“When the snow starts flying, it’s kind of one of those is, we got to start triaging the situation to the point where we are trying to help as many people we can get them safely out to keep these roads open,” he said.

Omer has responded to all kinds of calls in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, from search and rescues to ill-equipped stuck cars, people running out of gas, and crashes and slide-offs.

Driving through a curve, he pointed to a steep drop-off from the passenger side of the car.

“If you look out, this is kind of one of the famous turns where we had a truck go off the edge here,” Omer said.

The turn on Big Cottonwood Canyon that caused a track to go off the road.

The turn in Big Cottonwood Canyon that caused a truck to go off the road. (KSL TV)

Those calls can close the canyon for hours, with problems creating a domino effect for miles in each direction.

“That’s kind of one of the big issues — Big and Little, one way up, one way down — when we close the road down, or if we have a major incident in the middle of the road, people have nowhere to go,” he said.

Omer urged drivers to check their gas gauge before driving up to make sure the tank is full, and to keep the car stocked with extra supplies. He cautioned timid, scared drivers from attempting to drive up in the storms, and warned the overconfident who think they can drive fast with their 4×4 vehicles to slow down.

He also talked about the importance of making sure tourists check that their rental vehicles are all-wheel drive or 4×4, rather than two-wheel drive. Everyone should know and obey the traction law.

Anyone not prepared with the right driving skills, vehicles, or tires, should park along the UTA route and take the ski bus or a shuttle up.

This weekend, Omer is hoping his canyon patrol doesn’t become damage control, but he’s ready to respond to issues that pop up.

“This weekend, we’re going to be dealing with… slide-offs, vehicle accidents. Hopefully, nobody gets hurt or injured,” he said.

But on the bright side?

“Probably a lot of busy ski resorts, and hopefully a lot of happy skiers and snowboarders,” Omer said.

WEATHER ALERT: Storms continue to line up for Utah snow through Sunday

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Unified police ready for canyon closures, crashes, and slide-offs this weekend