Wednesday, February 12, 2020

'Historic weather event' in the Wasatch: 48 avalanches in 72 hours

Tom Derks posing with his buried Subaru after 3 feet of snow and several avalanches dropped on Alta Ski Area, UT. Photo: @tdawg21lolzzz/Instagram
Last week's storm that hit the Wasatch has now been dubbed as a 'historic weather event' and it's not hard to tell why. Brought about by an upside-down storm, which is when a snowstorm deposits denser snow over less dense snow, rapidly creating a slab/weak layer combination, the snowpack in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons became extremely unstable incredibly fast. This lead to 48 total avalanches - 21 of which hit the highway leading to Alta and Snowbird, keeping it closed for 54 hours.

Utah Department of Transportation officials had an extremely busy 3 days with all efforts mobilized towards clearing the road, meanwhile, everyone still stuck in Little Cottonwood Canyon was interlodged and prohibited from venturing outside. An Alta lift operator told me that "they ran out of beer on the first day," and a dozen cars in Alta's Wildcat base parking lot were completely buried by an avalanche that nearly hit the Peruvian Lodge. It was Snowmageddon. UDOT posted on their Facebook page:
So Feb. 6 - Feb. 8 were pretty remarkable for our @utahtransportation road and traffic operations crews, the @udotavy team, @snowbird and @altaskiarea mountain ops and snow safety, @unfiedpolicedepartment and the Alta Marshal. There were an impressive amount of avalanches - 48 - and of those, 21 were road hits, impacting a total of 4,850 feet of the roadway (debris up to 15’ deep!), closing the road for 54 hours. Suffice it to say, we had A LOT of snow to move so it was an all hands on deck sort of affair to get things cleared. There is still more clean up to do yet.
We send a huge thank you 🙏👏 to all our partners - it couldn’t have happened without you! The great communication and collaborative efforts of all involved was crucial to getting the roads and the Town of Alta safe to travel again.
Interlodgers and powderhounds stuck in the valley, we appreciate the patience you had during dangerous avalanche conditions and #snowmageddon!
Things were looking scary up there last weekend and thankfully no one was injured by any 1 of the 48 avalanches that wreaked havoc on the mountains. Alta Ski Area reported nearly a 3-foot storm total as a result of the storm. Fortunately, conditions in the canyons are now improving tremendously and the snowpack is re-transitioning towards stability.

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