Deep snowpack thrilling skiers in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY Ė A weeklong storm clearing northern Utah on Friday left ski resorts with more than 3 feet of fresh snow, marking a big change from the dry holidays of last year.

The Wasatch resorts between Salt Lake City and Park City were swarming with thousands of skiers. Morning traffic was backed up in Little Cottonwood Canyon, home to Alta and Snowbird resorts, where skiers said it took 90 minutes to drive up the seven-mile canyon from Salt Lake City.

Utah troopers reported scores of accidents and slide-offs in recent days along the Wasatch Front, home to 2 million of Utahís residents.

On the slopes, skiers found the soft powder almost too deep to ski. Some joked about Utahís version of a fiscal cliff, the negotiations that have paralyzed the nationís capital.

ďI went over a fiscal ledge at Snowbird and had to dig myself out of a hole,Ē said Jon Weisberg, who was skiing with a son-in-law from New York. ďI was looking for a ski Sherpa to help me out. It took me 20 minutes to get up.Ē

Alta and Snowbird have received more than 13 feet of snow this season Ė more than twice the amount many Colorado resorts were reporting Friday. The Rocky Mountains are enjoying a rebound from one of the worst winters ever for snowfall last year.

ďItís a great thing for our economy,Ē said Craig Gordon of the Utah Avalanche Center, who issued a joyous warning Friday. He said steep backcountry slopes in the central Wasatch mountains near Salt Lake City were prone to sliding but only with the most recent layer of soft snow, presenting little danger. He did warn skiers to stay off slopes steeper than 35 degrees, which leaves plenty of terrain to ski.

Avalanche dangers were more considerable in other parts of Utah that are popular with snowmobilers, he said. Gordon patrols the western Uintas, Utahís tallest mountain chain, and the Manti-LaSal skyline of central Utah. Those areas had a shallower, weaker snowpack before this weekís storms and could break into deeper blocks of sliding snow, he said.

In southern Utah, Eagle Point ski area got almost all of its season-opening snowfall this week Ė 37 inches fell in 48 hours.

ďWeíre looking good,Ē said Alec Hornstein, a backcountry guide based at Eagle Point, who was leading his first tours of the season Friday in the volcanic-shaped Tushar mountains east of the ranching town of Beaver.

Eagle Point operators are trying to draw more crowds to Utahís most remote ski area by offering free skiing every Thursday in January. For California residents, the skiing at Eagle Point is free all season.

There was little indication of more storms in Utahís forecast, meaning sunny days in the mountains. Clearing skies will bring fog and urban haze to the valleys of northern Utah, the National Weather Service said Friday.

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