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Utah mountain highway closed due to high avalanche danger

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SALT LAKE CITY — A mountain highway east of Salt Lake City that provides access to a pair of popular ski resorts was closed Tuesday after a large snowstorm raised already dangerous avalanche conditions.

Utah Department of Transportation officials closed state Route 210 in the Little Cottonwood Canyon to do avalanche prevention work in hopes of preventing anyone from getting hurt. The agency posted a video of snow barreling down the mountain and onto to the highway in an avalanche they triggered as part of the work.

— UDOT Cottonwood Canyons (@UDOTcottonwoods) February 16, 2021

A storm that began overnight Tuesday and continued into the day had dumped about 20 inches of snow in the Little Cottonwood Canyon, home to Snowbird and Alta ski resorts. Alta said in a tweet that it was closed for the day. Snowbird hadn’t opened by midday Tuesday but mountain officials were still trying to determine if it was safe to let skiers and snowboarders already up there hit the slopes later in the day, said spokeswoman Sarah Sherman.

The deaths of two men caught in avalanches in Colorado and a third in Montana over the Presidents Day weekend illustrated how backcountry skiers and others in the Rocky Mountain wilderness risk triggering weak layers of snow that have created the most hazardous conditions in a decade, forecasters say.

At least 25 people have been killed in avalanches in the United States so far this year — up from the 23 who died last winter. On Feb. 6, Utah saw its deadliest avalanche in about 30 years when four backcountry skiers in their 20s died and another four dug themselves out of a slide east of Salt Lake City.

Avalanche forecasters say they have rarely seen the danger as high as it is now — and it will grow as more snow moves into the Rockies, adding weight and stress on a weak, granular base layer of snow that’s susceptible to breaking apart and triggering especially wide slides on steep slopes.

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