Seven a.m.—powder day.
Make coffee, grab a quick bite, pack gear into car—off for the races by eight.
Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic by eight-thirty.
“It’s Saturday,” you remember. Little Cottonwood Canyon is always packed on a Saturday powder day.
Thirty minutes pass and you make it a half-mile to the mouth of the canyon—it’s still dumping hard.
As you creep towards liberation and make your way into the canyon’s holy gates, the cars in front of you stop. There’s a police officer in the middle of the road in a thick jacket getting pummeled with powder flakes. He’s standing by an electronic sign with orange block letters. “What does that sign say?” You squint.
“PARKING FULL AT SKI AREAS. LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON CLOSED TO UPHILL TRAFFIC.”
Your worst subliminal fears are confirmed. You put the car into park and wait—waiting, seemingly endlessly, as the sky continues to fall and the glowing red brake light serpent winds back and forth down the highway.
What has just been described is not the work of fictional horror but of premonition of what could be to come in Salt Lake City this winter after the Utah Department of Transportation announced that they will close uphill traffic in the Big and Little Cottonwood canyons when parking at the resorts is full.
Because of increased popularity during the pandemic, officials warn they will close uphill traffic in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons this ski season when parking is totally full.https://t.co/UCjWbTFWNM
— The Salt Lake Tribune (@sltrib) November 16, 2020
“We don’t want people to wait unnecessarily,” John Gleason, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Transportation said to the Salt Lake Tribune Monday. He said that ski resort and UDOT websites will warn when the canyon is about to close for uphill traffic and that roadside electronic message signs near the base of the canyons will be placed on packed days.
According to UDOT, when resort parking fills up quickly on busy days in the winter people start parking on the canyon roads, which is a safety concern. A lot of skiers and snowboarders come up to the ski areas only to find that there is no parking available, having to turn around and go back down the canyon—which is what UDOT is hoping to avoid this season, especially as winter recreation popularity skyrockets due to the pandemic.
UDOT understands that more people will be wanting to ski these canyons than ever before this winter after it was cut short last season and that backcountry use will be at an all-time high.
That’s why when parking at the four resorts in the canyon fills up this season, UDOT and Unified Police will close uphill traffic. This will exclude resort employees, residents, hotel guests, parents picking up their kids, buses, and rideshare companies such as Uber and Lift which don’t take up parking. Downhill traffic will still be allowed to carry on normally. Canyon officials will be monitoring resort parking lots and trailheads this winter and will be ready to temporarily restrict uphill traffic whenever they see those fill up or when the line of cars in canyons get too long.
Likely, once the mid-morning-powder-panic traffic dissipates and parking becomes available at the resorts after a few hours, uphill traffic will reopen. Traffic in Little Cottonwood is already atrocious on weekends and powder days when road conditions are tricky and parking is limited at ski resorts. New parking reservation systems such as Snowbird’s may also contribute to more congestion in the canyons.
So please be sure to plan your ski days accordingly this winter—check canyon updates, carpool, or go up early. Avoid the red serpent at all costs!