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Pent-up demand for skiing, snowboarding results in heavy Cottonwoods traffic

Posted at 9:19 PM, Jan 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-31 01:31:31-05

SALT LAKE CITY — With parts of the Wasatch Mountains receiving another foot of snow overnight, long lines and traffic jams plagued the Cottonwood Canyons on Saturday.

Many took to Twitter to share their stories of hour-plus wait times and share pictures of the congestion.

"Almost like two-and-a-half hours or so just to get up to the ski resort," said snowboarder Steven Van Slooten.

Three of the four resorts in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons had full parking lots before lifts started running at 9 a.m.

"We haven't had a lot of snow, so when you have another foot of fresh powder, people are enthusiastic," said Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason. "They're excited about it, they want to get up there and experience it."

With all that excitement, UDOT restricted uphill traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon for about an hour.

"We have a lot of congestion, and we have people that are unfortunately stuck in that traffic jam for sometimes hours," Gleason added. "That's something we want to avoid."

Solitude Mountain Resort said people continue to seek outdoor activities due to the health-safety constraints of the pandemic.

"Not only have we had a dry start to the season, but last season ended rather abruptly," said Solitude spokeswoman Sara Huey. "We all remember in mid-March, and so there is that pent up demand."

READ: 2021's first major snowfall brings thousands to Utah's canyons

The regular bumper-to-bumper traffic in the canyons has many turning to the ski bus as the next best option. Van Slooten was sure to arrive at the Wasatch Blvd. park-and-ride early to try and beat the crowds.

"Got here at 6:30 a.m. in this parking lot, and there was already a line of people," he said. "I originally tried to go down to that first one down there, but they had cops there and they were turning everybody around, and that lot was full by 6:30 a.m."

Huey recommends coming up to the resort later in the day to avoid the early morning rush.

"After a storm like we saw last night, maybe the parking is full by mid-morning, but there will be spaces again around noon or one, and still plenty of fresh snow to enjoy," she added.

All of the Cottonwood Canyon resorts are working with UDOT and others to seek solutions to the increase in traffic.

"We're looking at the potential of added bus service," Gleason said. "Added bus service with a dedicated bus lane shoulder, a gondola, a cog rail. So, there's a lot of different possibilities."

FOX 13 NEWS 360: Three options for fixing winter congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon

"It's definitely a complicated equation," Huey added. "Not only is the commute up to the resort part of all of our guests' ski day and ski experience, so we want that to be expeditious and smooth —and safe, above all."

Until those plans take effect, some are considering avoiding skiing or snowboarding on the weekends altogether.

"You hop off the freeway and the line's like there, you know?" Van Slooten said. "And that's at like 6:30, so you're like, 'Great, what is that going to mean for going up the canyon, waiting in the lines up there?'"

Both Huey and Gleason said the best way to alleviate traffic in the canyons is to check Solitude and UDOT's individual social media pages. Both post regular updates about traffic and parking lot statuses.