Both Big and Little Cottonwood canyons are known for both avalanches and great backcountry experiences, but these two activities do not mix well.
That assertion became clearer Dec. 24 when a group of backcountry skiers got too close to where Utah Department of Transportation crews were about to purposely trigger an avalanche. The skiers' proximity forced a helicopter crew to back off plans to bomb near Cardiff Fork and Kessler Peak in the Uintah Mountains, according to news reports out of Salt Lake City. The backcountry skiers apparently either ignored, missed or removed warning signs at the trailhead for the route into the area, officials said.
Sometimes the highways are closed while avalanche control goes on, and UDOT officials said that the presence of backcountry skiers may extend those closures until the area is clear for bombing.
"If we were in the middle of the storm, we'd have to keep the whole road closed until we could do that control work," Matt McKee, avalanche forecaster for UTDOT, told KSL.com.
Utah locals know that these two canyons are where the backcountry action is, and many out-of-state visitors to Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton also find the vast expanses of out-of-bounds, unpatrolled terrain too hard to resist.
That's why the state maintains a page on its website (see "road conditions" below) that publishes schedules and locations of avalanche control and warns under-the-ropes adventurers to stay clear. The page is regularly updated.