The Annual Issue at Hand for Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon: Avalanches

Riley McDonald | | AvalancheAvalancheIndustry NewsIndustry News
alta utah
Alta, UT, image: Unsplash, Andrew Meehan

Utah’s Little Cottonwood canyon, Highway 210, is the way to two of the state’s renowned ski resorts: Alta and Snowbird. These slopes are truly among the West’s shining gems, consisting of that perfect light and dry Utah powder. However, getting to the powder is a potentially treacherous journey.

Little Cottonwood Canyon is prone to one of the highest amounts of avalanche slide paths of any road in the world. According to the Utah Department of Transportation(UDOT):

“There are 64 slide paths in Little Cottonwood Canyon alone, with over half of SR-210 threatened by avalanches. Over 50 buildings and 76% of the road passing through Snowbird and the Town of Alta are in avalanche paths.”

UDOT mitigates the threat of slide paths by air, using remote avalanche control systems with artillery. To accomplish this, the canyon and road to the resorts must be closed, a necessary inconvenience that locals are all too familiar with. UDOT’s Instagram and Twitter accounts (@UDOTavy) are the best means to keep up with recent updates and closures. 

LCC slide paths
Little Cottonwood Canyon avalanche slide paths, image: UDOT Cottonwood Canyons

Often, the canyon will be closed from around 9 or 10 PM to 8 AM the next day. However, the ample amounts of snow Utah has received this 2022-2023 season has brought with it an avalanche mitigation nightmare. Kicking off the New Year, LCC was closed all day on the 1st due to mitigation attempts, meaning locals and tourists alike were not able to enjoy the deep powder on that day.

Since then, LCC has been closed on many nights for the same reason. Undoubtedly, this is a major inconvenience for people living in the town of Alta and for employees working in and around the resorts. The issue at hand is that this cannot be avoided, it is without question that mitigating the avalanche slide paths is far superior to allowing them to slide at will and wipe out life in the canyon.

Are there any solutions? Snowsheds, concrete tunnels to protect the road from avalanches, are an option. Troublingly, this option is costly and would only protect 3 of the 64 slide paths. Another potential solution is one that has received major push-back from the local community, a gondola traveling the length of the canyon from the mouth to the resorts. 

For the time being, the canyon closures must be respected and understood. Hopefully, a solution will be found in the near future that allows access to enjoy these great powder-covered mountains.

snowbird, ut
Snow blanketed slopes at Snowbird, image: Unsplash, Andrew Bain

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One thought on “The Annual Issue at Hand for Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon: Avalanches

  1. Very frustrated that this article implies that there needs to be a “solution”. Things work just fine the way they are now. We don’t need to pave paradise

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