Winter storm puts drivers through another nightmare commute, but it’s a boon for ski resorts

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snow blankets the Salt Lake Valley as a winter storm passes through the Wasatch Front Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.

In what has been a rare occurrence this winter, most of Utah was carpet-bombed with record-breaking snow over Presidents Day weekend. The inclement weather slowed traffic to a crawl and caused hundreds of crashes, overwhelming law enforcement.

But there’s a silver lining: The storms provided a much-needed boon to the snow coffers of area resorts, which had worked hard to make do with the piddling offerings received from the sky in a prolonged dry spell.

Since Friday, Alta Ski Area has recorded 45 inches of fresh powder, according to Ski Utah, a nonprofit that promotes ski and snowboard tourism. From Sunday evening to Tuesday morning, many of the resorts along the Wasatch Front reported receiving 17 to 23 inches of snow.

And because the holiday weekend is one of the busiest for ski tourism, Utah’s renowned snow got exposure. It also helps the folks at Ski Utah as they push to extend the winter tourism season by a couple of months.

“This snow is going to be front and center for our marketing campaign for the spring,” said Paul Murphy, spokesman for Ski Utah.

As the snow fell Monday, skiers flocked to the mountains and the traffic up Big and Little Cottonwood canyons consumed the bulk of the Unified Police Department’s workforce, said spokesman Lt. Brian Lohrke.

Between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday, the department reported 40 slide-offs in the canyons, Lohrke said. Given drivers’ slow speeds in the snow, there were no significant injuries.

During the storm, the Utah Highway Patrol reported 682 crashes, 552 of them coming in Salt Lake and Utah counties. But while the traffic was worse Tuesday than on the Monday holiday, there were far fewer crashes, said UHP’s Lt. Todd Royce.

The long-dumping storm took its toll on troopers, who worked extended hours, especially on Monday.

“It was tough all day long,” he said. “We were seeing a number of crashes all day long.”

Troopers were also at the mercy of Utah drivers, sliding around on the snow and ice. Four UHP vehicles were hit on Monday, Royce said.

On Tuesday morning, as snow continued falling along the Wasatch Front, many travelers headed to work at half-speed or slower on ice- and slush-covered highways.

Wednesday calls for a low of 7 degrees and a high of 34 in Salt Lake City.

Avalanche danger was listed as high in the Skyline and Moab areas and as “considerable” near Logan, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Provo, the Uintas and the Abajo, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.

Six flights into and out of Salt Lake City International Airport were listed as canceled Tuesday, and 271 of the airport’s flights had been delayed as of 9:15 p.m, according to FlightAware.com.

Rocky Mountain Power continues to work to repair infrastructure damage, with 26 outages affecting 74 customers, the bulk in Iron County.

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook for the entire state Tuesday. The western two-thirds were advised of snow showers that were to taper off by Tuesday night; “the coldest airmass of the season” was to bring subfreezing temperatures into most valleys. The next storm system to bring snow is expected Thursday night; its largest impact area is to be in central and southern Utah.

St. George residents can expect highs Wednesday that will reach the upper 40s.

U.S. Highway 191 was closed in both directions at the Utah-Wyoming state line on Tuesday. Officials predict it will reopen after noon on Wednesday.