Park City Ski Area will be open for business Saturday - the second-earliest opening date in its history - thanks in part to a major winter storm system that dumped as much as 18 inches at area resorts.
The heavy snow from the storm that began as rain Thursday also weighed down tree limbs, bending and breaking the branches on many trees, which contributed to a spate of power outages from Weber County to Salt Lake City."We've got all our crews called out," Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Utah Power, said Friday morning. "We've had so many outages. Anywhere there are lines and trees involved, we've got problems."
In most places, the heavy moisture stuck to the late-season foliage and caused the limbs to bend and power lines to arc as they came in contact with other lines.
Karen Salisbury, forestry coordinator with Salt Lake's urban forestry department, said although the storm wasn't the worst she's seen, there were "lots of limbs down - everywhere."
One tree split down the middle from weight of snow near 1800 East and Kensington Avenue (1525 South). Most felled limbs were about 3 inches in diameter or larger, Salisbury said.
The blackouts also forced the closure of a handful of schools in Weber and Davis counties Friday.
In the Salt Lake School District, administrators planned to recess school early at Bennion and Beacon Heights elementary schools, as well as Bryant and Hillside intermediate schools because they had no power.
Schools in Davis County remained open Friday, although some were without power.
"Out of 70 schools, right now about a dozen are without power," Superintendent Richard Kendell reported at midmorning. "But the schools are open, the staff is there, the teachers are there, the buses are running.
"The situation changes every few minutes. Davis High called earlier and said they had no power, the school was dark and cold because a transformer blew out. They called back a few minutes later, the power's on.
"Once the schools open and the kids arrive, we don't close them. It's a safety issue," Kendell said. "We don't send kids out into the storm, we have a lot of situations where both parents work and are not at home, the house is locked, and we're not going to turn the kids out," he said.
The storm should push across Utah by late Friday into Colorado, leaving more snow in the mountains and measurable precipitation along the valley floors, said BillAlder of the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
Snow fell at a rate of about 2 inches an hour throughout Friday morning, and northern Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties received about 3 inches. Brigham City and Logan received about 2 inches. The storm was expected to move south into Utah County later Friday evening. The east benches near Layton received 5 inches.
As much as 6 inches was recorded at Kimball Junction near Park City and another 6 inches up Parleys Canyon, where emergency crews responded to dozens of weather-related accidents.
And despite the messy driving conditions, Highway Patrol troopers feel fortunate the morning commute passed with only a handful of accidents - and no serious injuries.
"It hasn't been that bad, considering the weather," said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Verdi White II.
Troopers responded to about 12 fender-benders along Wasatch Front highways Friday morning. Six cars were involved in a "chain reaction" accident on I-15 near 7200 South.
Several cars also slid off I-80 in Parleys Canyon, but did not delay morning traffic.
"Most of the accidents were caused because people were driving too fast or following too close," said White.
Police dispatchers in Davis County reported numerous minor traffic accidents and slideoffs but said no major incidents were reported and none of the accidents resulted in serious injuries.
Fire department crews were dispatched to deal with arcing power lines, trees falling onto lines and some transformer fires sparked by the arcing lines.
Two police departments, Layton and Bountiful, were operating on emergency generators Friday morning as their electrical power was interrupted.
Other ski areas measured more than a foot of fresh powder. Alta got 18 inches and Snowbird topped out at just over a foot of snow.
Cold air from the storm lagged about four hours behind the cold front, and a mixture of rain and snow fell in the valleys for several hours after the front passed.
That's was just fine with Park City ski officials.
"We've been trying for a Halloween opening for more than 20 years, and we missed by just five days," ski area president and general manager Phil Jones joked.
Along with the 8 inches of the natural stuff Friday, Jones said the ability to open so early "is a direct result of our $11 million investment in snowmaking, along with the purchase of 20 new `tower guns' this summer."
The resort will have one lift open beginning Saturday, and officials said they are prepared for the season to begin. Park City will host the opening races of the men's and women's World Cup on Nov. 21.
Winter storm warnings remain in effect for all of Utah's mountains today and Saturday, and a wind advisory was issued for the Great Salt Lake and western deserts, with wind gusts expected near 50 mph.
Deseret News staff writers Jason Swensen and Don Rosebrock contributed to this report.