Avalanches Shut Down Utah Resorts for 52 Hours

It’s the dream state of affairs for many who’ve skied Little Cottonwood Canyon: rise up the canyon earlier than the street closes, sit tight whereas the avalanche professionals do their job, then benefit from the Biggest Snow on Earth nearly crowd-free whereas the lots wait for the street to open. Locals name it “country club skiing,” and it’s a factor of legend at Alta and Snowbird.

That’s not precisely how issues labored out final week. A one-two punch of excellent storms closed each resorts for two days, from Feb. 6 to Feb. 8, and put all friends and resort workers beneath interlodge restrictions—the place journey exterior of buildings is prohibited—for 52 hours.

avalanche utah
Picture: Courtesy of Lee Cohen/POWDER Journal

From Thursday to Saturday, about 20 inches of snow blanketed higher LCC. Alta beginning spinning their lifts for lodge friends at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8. Snowbird wasn’t far behind, opening the Mid Gad elevate by 10:20 a.m., and Wilbur earlier than 11 a.m. Each resorts estimate that they had lower than 1,000 friends every.

“For the most part, I think people took advantage of the brief window they were given to get down the canyon on Thursday,” says Brian Brown, advertising supervisor at Snowbird. At 11:38 a.m., the Utah Division of Transportation introduced that Little Cottonwood Canyon had lastly reopened.

avalanche utah
Picture: Courtesy of Lee Cohen/POWDER Journal

The reprieve was momentary, nonetheless. By 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, each Alta and Snowbird introduced that their tons have been full. By 1:30 p.m., UDOT closed uphill site visitors within the canyon on account of congestion. Visitors additionally brought about Huge Cottonwood Canyon to shut briefly on Saturday, previous to Little Cottonwood reopening.

Evan Thayer, the Utah forecaster for Opensnow.com, was a kind of who made it up the canyon on Thursday earlier than the street closed. “Everything was going according to plan,” Thayer says. “They announced that the road would likely be closed indefinitely. So everybody who was in Goldminer’s Daughter was starting to celebrate and salivating at this idea of a country club ski day up in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It just wasn’t to be. I mean, we never left the building.”

avalanche utah
Picture: Courtesy of Lee Cohen/POWDER Journal

As a meteorologist, Thayer says this storm was intriguing. “It just had absurd amounts of moisture in it,” he says. “And it was a very long-duration, persistent northwest flow. So basically the same areas that are favored in that just kept getting hit. When it snows almost constantly for two and a half days at a high snow density, it’s going to cause issues, but it’s just the amount of water contained in the storm was remarkable.”

One monitoring station at Alta measured virtually 7 inches of snow water equal—the quantity of water you’ll have if all of the snow melted.

This heat, moist storm got here on the heels of one other atypical system that hit Utah on Sunday and Monday, Feb. 2 and 3. This primary storm dropped 18 inches on the Salt Lake Metropolis benches, however solely 7 inches of very gentle, chilly snow at Alta. “It was the perfect recipe for unstable snow pack and avalanche issues,” Thayer says.

Consider Little Cottonwood Canyon’s distinctive topography, and the state of affairs will get much more grave. LCC has 122 named avalanche paths, greater than 40 of that are able to crossing the street. In accordance with UDOT, the street has one of many highest Avalanche Hazard Index rankings in North America.

As anticipated, the avalanches got here. On Feb. 7, the Utah Division of Transportation reported “major natural avalanche activity,” together with a number of slides hitting Little Cottonwood Canyon Rd. Snowbird Entry 1 was buried beneath 9 ft of snow. Movies confirmed a slide crossed the street and hit the Peruvian and Wildcat parking tons at Alta.

LCC additionally has an uncanny knack for snagging moisture from the air that misses its neighbor to the north, Huge Cottonwood Canyon. In accordance with the Nationwide Climate Service, the monitoring station at Alta-UDOT measured 6.79 inches of snow water equal. The entire Huge Cottonwood Canyon stations registered lower than 4 inches.

“If this were normal Utah density snow, which is around 8% and about 15 to 1 ratios, that would be about 90 to 100 inches of snow from this storm,” says Thayer.

Avalanches, or course, are nothing new to Little Cottonwood Canyon. It’s uncommon, nonetheless, that each resorts would shut down for an prolonged interval. Photographer Lee Cohen waited out this one at his dwelling on the mouth of the canyon and ventured as much as doc the aftermath. He remembers a day in 2002 when each resorts closed. “But that was just a one day affair,” he remembers. In March of 1983, Cohen remembers being interlodged for three days.

“When I was younger, we’d go get interlodged on purpose,” Cohen says. “But man, once you get caught for some longer interlodges, it gets old. I started trying to avoid it.”

avalanche utah
Picture: Courtesy of Lee Cohen/POWDER Journal

Thayer took benefit of a brief window on Thursday when UDOT opened to street to let individuals down. He says staying at that time was not even a consideration. “There were several people who said, ‘Oh I just want to be interlodged again tonight because Friday’s going to be just absolutely epic,’” Thayer says. “I was like, nothing is going to change. All it’s going to do in the next 24 hours is continue to snow just like this. If it’s not open today, it’s definitely not going to be open tomorrow.”

Those that stayed, ultimately acquired their nation membership day, albeit not the Utah blower you see in lots of Cohen’s signature photographs. “It did wonders for our base,” says Snowbird’s Brown. “But it was so dense, it went straight to base.” As for Thayer, he took benefit of Salt Lake Metropolis’s central location to 6 completely different resorts. “I went to Park City,” he says.

This text initially appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.

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