An avalanche spilled across the highway and into Snowbird resort Thursday afternoon as Utah’s heavy snowpack continues to create dangerous conditions in the mountains.
The naturally triggered slide broke off of a lower section of Mount Superior, crossed State Route 210 and ran through the Chickadee trail around 12:30 p.m. The resort had opened to interlodged skiers just a few hours earlier.
Sarah Sherman, a Snowbird spokesperson, said ski patrollers searched the area — a beginner-level run — using avalanche rescue dogs, Recco signals and probes. After about three hours of searching as well as reviewing video footage of the area and taking guest head counts, resort personnel determined no one was buried in the slide.
The lift towers for the Chickadee lift and the lift operators’ shack appeared to be unaffected by the slide, which entered on the far west side of the trail. Guests who were on the chairlift at the time of the avalanche were able to safely ride off of it, Sherman said.
Snowbird Village went into interlodge immediately after the slide. About 1,500 people have been interlodged at the resort since SR 210 closed to traffic because of heavy snow and avalanche danger Sunday night. The resort lifted the interlodge for its guests Thursday morning — allowing them to roam the resort and ski or snowboard — but the road remained closed and they were unable to leave.
When a town or resort goes into interlodge, people are required to take shelter in a permanent structure and are not allowed to go outside.
The Utah Avalanche Center has classified all the mountains between Provo and Logan as being at a “High” avalanche risk — one step down from the almost never used “Extreme” rating. Utah Department of Transportation spokesperson John Gleason said on Wednesday that one of the reasons it has taken so long to open Little Cottonwood Canyon is that avalanches are coming down paths they rarely take.
“We’re seeing the slides happen in areas that are we don’t usually see these avalanches happening,” Gleason said. “Lower parts of the canyon, areas that are usually considered safe zones for crews to stage are getting hit with with these slides.”
David Cohen of Philadelphia had just finished having lunch with his two teenage sons at the Forklift restaurant and was preparing to head out to enjoy the 64 inches of snow Snowbird has received since Sunday when his pathway was blocked.
“They said, ‘Stay inside. No one’s allowed outside,’” Cohen said. “And they were just shuttling everyone into the restaurant or anywhere else that was indoors.”
Cohen said the restaurant looks out onto the area where the slab came down and he could see the rescue workers probing for people who might be under the snow.
About 75 people were in the restaurant with him and his family, including many children. “Spirits are fine right now,” Cohen said.
Cohen had spent the previous interlodge in a condo about a quarter mile from Snowbird Village and had come close to running out of food as the restrictions dragged on for more than three days. He said during a brief “straight line interlodge” period, in which they could go outside but not leave the property, the property manager gave them some pasta and sauce for Wednesday night’s dinner. If the interlodge lasts into Thursday night, they will have food from the restaurant but likely no beds.
The slide also puts in doubt the Cohen family’s and other skiers’ chances of leaving the resort anytime soon. Not only was the road covered, but it shows the danger of an avalanche remains high.