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The record snow is a blessing and a curse right now in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Interlodge closure sign, Alta Ski Area, Courtesy photo, Feb. 8, 2020
Rocko Menzyk
Alta Ski Area, file
FILE — An interlodge warning bars a door at Alta Ski Area, Feb. 8, 2020.

Driving through Little Cottonwood Canyon comes with breathtaking views of what Utah's backcountry has to offer. The steep and narrow winding road also comes with a host of dangers, including avalanches.

The canyon has 64 slide paths. When snow comes tumbling down the mountain, it can cover roadways, parking lots and the areas surrounding a building.

This winter, avalanche conditions have forced roads to close and ski resorts and towns to enforce what’s known as interlodge.

Interlodge happens when high snow levels and avalanche danger create conditions when it’s unsafe to be outside, and avalanche control work is required to mitigate the threat.

Interlodges typically only last several hours, but after a series of storms dropped a blanket of snow across portions of Utah beginning Monday, April 3, Snowbird and Alta Ski Area were shut in for days.

"The current cycle is one for the history books,” said Alta Lodge president Cliff Curry.

In February 2021, skiers and employees at Alta were stuck at the resort for 60 consecutive hours. Two and a half days in one place is a long time, but this April’s interlodge topped it.

The Alta Town Marshal issued an interlodge order Monday evening after the Utah Department of Transportation determined road conditions through the canyon weren't safe due to high avalanche danger.

That lasted until Thursday, April 6, when it was lifted that morning while the Utah Department of Transportation did avalanche mitigation.

The interlodge went back into effect later that afternoon.

Interlodges are common for ski areas nestled in the Little Cottonwood Canyon.

PR manager for Alta Ski Area Andria Huskinson said with nearly 900 inches of snow at Alta they want people to enjoy the powder, but safety is number one.

"We've gotten 877 inches so far this winter. And that's a lot of snow. Like we think 500 or 600 inches, there's lots of snow. So all these slide paths, there's like over 50 slide avalanche slide paths that can hit the road."

For guests visiting Alta or Snowbird who planned a vacation to enjoy skiing in Utah's mountains, interlodge truncates their time on the slopes. But Curry said guests at Alta Lodge seemed to understand the severity of the situation at hand.

"Our guests are taking it all in stride and in good humor. I don't think I've heard a single complaint. If guests are skiing on the mountain in the event of a short-term interlodge order, then ski patrol on the mountain and Alta will let them know to go to their lodges. And so in those unusual cases, everybody will come inside. They understand it's a matter of public safety."

And Mother Nature doesn't exactly follow a schedule. An interlodge event that closes the canyon could lead to other issues for out-of-towners like missed or rescheduled flights, or coughing up money for an extra night of lodging.

While no one can leave, it also means no one can come up, including those not staying at the resorts who want to ski.

Andria Huskinson said she couldn’t comment on financial specifics but said not being able to allow skiers to come up to the resort for multiple days does impact business.

“And one thing with Alta it is where, you know, maybe the lodges took bigger hits than we would have. We're just the ski area.

Jay Yenny has lived in the town of Alta since 2018. He manages the Village at Sugarplum condominiums located between Alta and Snowbird.

He said he's witnessed how the uncertainty of an interlodge can affect visitors.

"Some of these families spend tens of thousands of dollars to come out here on a ski vacation. And they're locked down for four days. No, there's no lifts open. There's nothing. And you're stuck. You know, you're stuck in your condo or at your lodge or whatever you're renting, and that's it."

Although Yenny is somewhat accustomed to an interlodge, it can pose challenges for how he gets work done as well.

"I've been waiting for a piece of equipment to be delivered. And basically, I've been waiting now [for] nine days."

As for now, Yenny said he has enough food to eat, and books to read, but there aren't many people around.

"There [are no] tourists here. And most of the owners want to come here and ski and not be interlodged for four days. Right now, it's pretty empty. You know, I'll go, you know, most of the afternoon, this afternoon, without seeing another human being."

As of the time of publication, SR-210 is closed due to hazardous conditions related to avalanches, and warm temperatures are making the possibility of slides more likely.

Even with uncertain travel conditions through Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta Ski Area isn't currently under interlodge. Employees and guests staying at the resort have been able to enjoy the slopes so far.

"We have high hopes that the weather pattern is going to turn and it's going to get cooler and start snowing again and we'll be able to return to normal operations," said Curry.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the amount of time left for people who want to ski.

Closing day for both Alta and Snowbird is April 23.

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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