SALT LAKE CITY — Little Cottonwood Canyon opened Saturday after the road was blocked for two days following three natural avalanches that left travel particularly unsafe.
“It’s been kind of an adventure,” said Nate Potter, who runs the ski shop at Alta. Because no one was renting skis, he was helping to dig out the cars in the parking lot.
“Mine was completely buried over the hood and around the back. There’s 4 feet of snow. It took me about 30 minutes to get it out,” Potter said, adding that his shovel “has taken a beating today.”
In addition to employees being stuck in what the resort calls “interlodge,” when everyone is required to stay indoors, visitors were also on lockdown for two days.
“We get this much snow a lot,” said another Alta employee, Gretchen Wolf. “It’s just the way the storm came in and the way the weather was created unstable circumstances.”
It was the biggest storm Kathy Ogsbury has seen in the 44 years she’s been coming from Denver to ski at Alta. The uncertainty of when the canyon would be opened caused her to miss at least three different flights home, though the airlines were working with her to coordinate a flight once she made it down the canyon.
“We’ve been eating a lot, reading books, more eating, a little drinking,” she said. “We had fun. Now we’d like to get out.”
Clearing that many people out took some time Saturday, but Unified Police Sgt. Ed Twohill said, “safety is paramount.”
“Most people are understanding, but the frustration is coming through,” he said. “Some of them have to wait in line for a long time. They have family or loved ones there and they want to see them, I understand that. But, they’re safe. Management is taking care of them.”
Police were working with the Utah Department of Transportation and Alta and Snowbird personnel, too, to “get people out and keep them safe,” Twohill said.
The canyon, he said, has a number of “slide paths,” where previous avalanches or heavy rainstorms have taken away vegetation. There was a mudslide there last summer, too.
“This is one of those situations where all hands are on deck,” Twohill said.
Alta spokeswoman Andria Huskinson said the resort was open Saturday, to foot traffic only, but, people stuck at the resort were able to take advantage of low crowds — at least until the canyon opened around 1 p.m.
“It’s a good day for those who are up there,” Huskinson said, adding that she doesn’t remember a time when the resort had to be in interlodge two days in a row.
“It’s been a lot of years,” she said.
The closure of Little Cottonwood Canyon caused added traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon, which led to a temporary road closure there Saturday, as well.
But, Twohill said both canyons are up and running, giving plenty of eager skiers access to the dozens of inches of new snow that fell with the recent storm.
Alta reports a snow base of 128 inches, with a total of 389 inches that has fallen this season, according to alta.com/weather. In the last three days, nearly 3 feet of new snow has fallen there and at Snowbird.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero