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Huge snow storm clobbers nation, but it’s 'no big deal' in Little Cottonwood Canyon

19th February 2021 | Craig Altschul

Alta smothered after 60-hour interlodge snow event

Alta smothered after 60-hour interlodge snow event

Copyright: Alta Ski Area/Rocko Menzyk

It roared out of the Pacific Ocean slammed the Rockies, taught Texans to worry about the power grid and rolled on up to New England. But, in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, it was just another day at the office.

"This past storm-cycle was one for the record books, with over 8 feet of snow at some of our resorts,” Ski Utah’s Paul Marshall told OnTheSnow.com. “While we are very excited to have seen so many people get out and enjoy ‘The Greatest Snow on Earth’ over the past few days, the true heroes of this past week are the resort staff, particularly the cat drivers, plows, ski patrol, and everyone else that helped keep the guests safe, dry and warm." 

Those heroes cooly went about their business in Little Cottonwood Canyon, home to Snowbird and fabled Alta. Why? Because this snow blast, though one for the record books at about an inch per hour some days, isn’t their first rodeo.

“Our avalanche forecasters anticipated the slides along the canyon,” Alta’s Andria Huskinson told us. “The Ski Patrol stayed on site overnight and were working on getting one route of the mountain at a time opened by the early morning hours.”

Little Cottonwood during storm UDOT camera  - © UDOT

Little Cottonwood during storm UDOT camera

Copyright: UDOT

All about anticipation

Alta’s unique lodges were packed over the weekend before the storm to the 50 percent COVID-induced limits and, as always, had up-to-the-moment information about the canyon’s road conditions and slides as they guests went home or stuck around, she said. “It’s all about anticipation.”

Huskinson, like most of Utah’s giant pack of local skiers and riders, welcomed the new snowfall as the season was lagging quite a bit behind it’s normal final level of 545-feet of fluff. But, Alta picked up 77 inches in a seven-day span with another snow kicker coming in for the weekend. All 15 Utah Ski resorts piled up snowfall totals in feet.

Utah skiers and riders are savvy consumers and understand where to get road condition and weather information. It’s everywhere and timely from resort and Ski Utah websites, to television, radio, newspaper, and social media feeds. Plus, there is alternative transportation if they don’t want to get behind the wheel.

Traction rules

Messages like this one from Sgt. James Blanton of the Utah Police Department Canyon Patrol are out there with first snows: “Make sure you have snow tires on your car, you have to have snow tires per law. You also have to have either four-wheel drive or chains in your car and you have to have them on your car before you head up the canyon if the lights are flashing with restriction enforcement," Sgt. Blanton says. 

“We don’t want to have to cite people, we want to educate people and we want to do that prior to them getting in the canyons so they don’t cause a traffic jam or a hazard.”

Drivers know to also be prepared for long waits in the canyons. On rare occasions, a canyon can be closed to traffic for several hours, leaving drivers stuck in their cars,” he added. That’s why talk of a gondola in the canyon is moving forward.

The middle day of the snowstorm saw the Salt Lake City International Airport reporting that 17 flights out of Salt Lake City were canceled and 71 were delayed. Another 19 flights into Salt Lake City were canceled and 34 were delayed.

Huskinson said the pandemic season has not kept skiers away and Alta is getting a good share of out-of-state guests, if not the usual eastern traffic. She said international visitors are non-existent because of travel restrictions.

Let it snow at Alta for this pow hound  - © Alta Ski Area/Rocko Menzyk

Let it snow at Alta for this pow hound

Copyright: Alta Ski Area/Rocko Menzyk

First-come, first-served for pow

Access to Alta slopes is first come, first-served this winter and skiing and parking reservations are not accepted. Mountain capacity is based upon weather, snowpack, available terrain and the restrictions on indoor facilities. 

Alta’s website suggests always checking the site’s road and parking page. Mask-wearing and distancing rules are the same as most resorts using the National Ski Areas Association guidelines.

While the snowstorm did indeed wreak havoc and sometimes, caused tragedy, in closeby states like Texas, Utah just went about its business, noting in several media stories that on one given day in February the total reached 11.7 inches in Salt Lake City, the most snow it has gotten in recent history on a single day in February. But, that’s just seventh place on any given day as 14 inches fell Nov. 24, 1908. That’s more than a century’s worth of experience.

Next time on the mountain, thank a patroller and a lift and all the other resort and city and state heroes who quietly do their job getting resorts available to you.



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