ALTA, Utah (ABC4) – This winter you may have seen or read in the news about all the new snow Utah’s had this ski season, including the number of times big storms have closed Little Cottonwood Canyon for avalanche control. But you likely haven’t heard the lengths some skiers are willing to go to get around those days when the canyon is closed. ABC4 shares the sneaky things the Alta Town Marshal finds, in this edition of Behind the Badge.
When the canyon closes you may understand how skiers can get antsy waiting for it to reopen. The Alta Marshal tells ABC4 some skiers started coming up the night before to wait it out in town, but on certain days that’s not legal, and that’s not where the ambitious creativity ends.
When big storms hit Little Cottonwood Canyon sometimes there’s just too much snow to handle.
“We’ve had a really big winter, and with a really big winter comes avalanche problems,” said Alta Town Marshal Mike Morey.
This season Alta Ski Area received record levels of snow – over 650 inches and counting. Morey is in charge of closing down the town, ensuring no one is in harm’s way when avalanche danger becomes too high.
“We’ve had times where we’ve had vehicles have been struck by snow slides, we’ve had times where buildings have been hit, and we’ve had snow inside some of these buildings up here,” said Morey.
In moments like those Morey issues an Interlodge order, requiring everyone at Alta to stay indoors and vacant the town, so UDOT crews can blast the canyon with explosives. While avalanche teams fire at potential slide zones, anxious skiers begin forming long lines waiting for everything to reopen. Each time Morey said he and his deputies have to search the town for those hoping to sneak past the closure and beat the crowds.
The number of times the Town Marshal has had to issue an Interlodge order has nearly doubled this year, due to the record amounts of snow Utah has had this winter season. Doubling the number of Interlodge orders also means doubling the number of people trying to find ways around it.
“We’ve found them in the vans, hiding under blankets, we’ve banged on their doors, we’ve used bullhorns to order them out of the vehicles,” said Morey. “Maybe some of my favorite stories include doing the Casper the ghost thing, you know, taking a tablecloth from one of the restaurants and cutting the eyes out and trying to cross the parking lot.”
“You mean they try to blend into the snow by putting a sheet over the top of them?” asked ABC4’s Brian Carlson.
“Yes,” Morey said.
“You mean like Halloween?” Carlson replied.
“Yeah, we’ve seen that happen,” said Morey.
While others may not take it to the extreme, Morey said it’s crucial they find those hiding out in town, so avalanche control teams can get to work faster.
“UDOT can’t go forward with their mitigation work until we’ve verified for them that all the target areas are clear,” said Morey.
He said the sooner crews stabilize the snow; the quicker police can reopen the canyon below. That puts anxious skiers on the mountain faster, reaping the benefits of what each storm brings.
That may show you just a glimpse of what skiers are willing to do to get around the Interlodge. The penalty isn’t just a slap on the wrist. Morey said if you’re a skier caught violating the Interlodge order, you could be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor, pay a $1,000 dollar fine, and spend up to six months in jail.