UDOT and ski resorts take precautions in face of high avalanche danger for mountain ranges in Utah

Posted at 3:31 PM, Dec 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-17 18:50:43-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Little Cottonwood Canyon closed down Thursday morning in the face of high avalanche danger and as the Utah Department of Transportation and local ski areas take all necessary precautions against slides.

The Utah Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning Thursday that listed the danger as high for nearly all mountain ranges in northern Utah--including the Wasatch and Uintas ranges as well as around Logan.

UDOT closed the road into Little Cottonwood Canyon to focus on avalanche control.

After it re-opened at 9 a.m., a caravan of cars slowly crawled toward the ski areas. In all, some said their drive from Salt Lake City took two hours.

“It's always frustrating when it takes so long because it's usually, it’s 30 minutes,” Branden Bertelsen said.

When skiers arrived, they saw more delays. Alta Ski Resort still hadn’t opened a couple of their lifts. Workers with the resort said that’s because crews were busy with avalanche control on the slopes.

The lifts opened just after 10 a.m.

“We’ve got very weak snow on the ground,” said Avalanche Forecaster Evelyn Lees with the Utah Avalanche Center.

The weak layer, Lees said, sits under inches of all the new snow from the past few days.

Plus, she added, “What's unique about the storm overnight is the strong winds.”

That’s because she said the winds pile up more snow on the weak slopes. Triggering a slide is very likely. The Utah Avalanche Center said they spotted natural slides, including one on Mt. Superior in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Hence the high danger rating.

“High avalanche danger means we do not recommend backcountry travel,” Lees said.

Skiers at Alta said they heeded the warnings on Thursday, even changing plans.

“Definitely decided to ski at the resort today instead of going, touring in the backcountry,” said Nick Mceachern, adding, “I think it was a safe choice.”

The Utah Avalanche Center’s avalanche warning runs until 6 a.m. Friday morning. Click here for the latest avalanche forecast from the center.