Why are the Cottonwood canyons so prone to avalanches?

Apr 8, 2023, 9:00 AM

Ski patrol crews are searching the Chickadee run at Snowbird Ski Resort after an avalanche there. V...

FILE: Snowbird resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The avalanche risk in both Big and Little Cottonwood canyons is so unique compared to other canyons and the large amount of snow the state has received has added to that. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

COTTONWOOD CANYONS, Utah — In terms of avalanche risk, the Cottonwood canyons is unique compared to other canyons, and this winter’s snowpack is adding to that.

However, the Utah Avalanche Center says you can take solace in the work crews are doing to keep it safe. UAC Forecaster Greg Gagne tells KSL NewsRadio Utah’s Department of Transportation would not open Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon roads unless UDOT felt it was safe. 

“They do a really, really good job at the resorts of keeping the slopes safe, and UDOT of the highways — keeping the highways safe,” Gagne said.

While there’s never zero risk heading into the mountains, Gagne said the mitigation work crews do is effective.

Why only the Cottonwood canyons?

Compared to canyons like Parleys, Gagne says the Cottonwoods are full of large avalanche paths with lots of car traffic below.

“Parleys does not have slide paths that can hit the road,” said Gagne.

And this year, the amount of snow has made the ridgelines in Cottonwoods, and Provo Canyons extra risky. Because all that snow has completely filled in avalanche paths, making them extra smooth. 

Normally, if avalanches come down those paths that start around 3,000 feet above the road, they wouldn’t hit it.

But this year, “it’s a clear run down the bottom of the canyon. And that’s what makes Little Cottonwood Canyon unique,” Gagne said. “It’s like a vertical bowling alley.”

He added that he believes that’s why UDOT is being so cautious with all their closures. 

Earlier this week, UDOT reported they’ve closed the canyons 30 times this season.

As for the avalanche risks as temps warm this weekend, Gagne said people should stay off slopes that are in the sun. 

Read more:


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories


The summer heat record in 2022 for Utah shattered records. As we look to this year, meteorologists ...

Lindsay Aerts

The record-breaking heat of summer 2022 unlikely to repeat in Utah this year

The summer of 2023 was one for the Utah heat record books with a whopping 34 days of triple-digit temperatures.

2 days ago

For one of the first times this spring, the Logan River in Utah has entered flood stage. And it's t...

Adam Small

Utah’s Logan River hits flood stage, more storms expected

Utah's spring rainstorms helped the Logan River move into flood stage, along with the melting snowpack from a banner winter.

8 days ago

A view overlooking Guam's Tumon Bay on Tuesday as Typhoon Mawar closes in.Mandatory (Photo: Junior...

Elizabeth Wolfe and Rob Shackelford, CNN

Typhoon Mawar impacting Guam with heavy rain and damaging winds

In addition to the strongest winds, the northern third of Guam is also seeing the heaviest rainfall.

8 days ago

people walk in downtown salt lake as the sun shines down, temperature in utah may set records again...

Adam Small

Heat could reach record levels within five years, Utah could see more extremes

Last summer set heat records in Utah, and meteorologists say there's a 50% chance that we'll see extreme temperatures again.

14 days ago

Thunderstorms this weekend...

Aimee Cobabe

Thunderstorms coming to Utah, expected to last all weekend

Thunderstorms are expected to move into the Beehive State tomorrow and last all weekend long. None expected to be severe.

27 days ago

Brian Steed was named as the new Great Salt Lake commissioner by Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday, May 15...

Carter Williams,

Record snowpack likely adds 2 years to Great Salt Lake’s long-term outlook, experts say

When taking into account the typical summer loss, he projects that the lake will be about 4,192.5 feet to 4,193 feet by the end of the year, close to current levels.

27 days ago

Sponsored Articles

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Group of cheerful team members high fiving each other...

Visit Bear Lake

How To Plan a Business Retreat in Bear Lake This Spring

Are you wondering how to plan a business retreat this spring? Read our sample itinerary to plan a team getaway to Bear Lake.

Cheerful young woman writing an assignment while sitting at desk between two classmates during clas...

BYU EMBA at the Marriott School of Business

Hear it Firsthand: 6 Students Share Their Executive MBA Experience at BYU’s Marriott School of Business

The Executive MBA program at BYU offers great opportunities. Hear experiences straight from students enrolled in the program.

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and gates.

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...

Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer.

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy.

Why are the Cottonwood canyons so prone to avalanches?