It is no secret that the Cottonwood Canyons are getting crowded. World class skiing at four separate resorts all within an hour of the Salt Lake City international airport was bound to create a major destination, and that is exactly what has occurred. Traffic has gotten so bad, particularly on snowy ‘powder’ days, that the canyon becomes more or less undrivable after 8 AM if there is any significant snowfall. The population growth of Salt Lake City coupled with the rise of popular multi resort passes has created a traffic phenomenon commonly referred to as “The Red Snake”. One need only consult a google map of the Cottonwood Canyons on a snowy day to see where this namesake comes from.

Finally in 2020, the Utah Department of Transportation(UDOT) decided it was time to do something about the congestion. A draft plan was put together introducing 3 potential solutions for Little Cottonwood only:

Enhanced Bussing: An increase in the number of buses running in the Canyons, and potential road widening

A cog railway system from the base of Little Cottonwood to Snowbird and Alta

A Gondola from the base of Little Cottonwood to Snowbird and Alta

After a review period, UDOT indicated that the Gondola would be the favored option. The cost in 2020 was estimated to be between 546 million and 576 million dollars. It will take years to construct this enormous Gondola, and it would be quite another question to see how many people would use it. Unless it is required, I cannot see many people wanting to load out of their warm cars in the dead of winter, ski gear in tow, to wait in line to load a Gondola to access a ski area they have driven to for their entire lives.

While we wait to see if the Gondola project gets the go-ahead, there is another option which I believe is certainly worth implementing, and could be used to reduce traffic in both canyons. What we are attempting to solve is a traffic problem that occurs mainly on snowy days. This traffic issue is created in large part by vehicle accidents occurring in the canyon. Police must arrive on scene, followed by tow trucks, and canyon traffic is funneled into one lane, or stopped entirely while the wreckage is cleared. On snowy days, there are signs stating that you must have 4x4 and snow tires, or chains to be able to drive the Cottonwoods, but these are often ignored by eager, powder hungry skiers.

Udot has a website tracking vehicle crashes in Utah:

The crash data can then be narrowed down by a number of factors, such as time, date, location, and most importantly contributing factors, i.e. conditions, and vehicle contributing factors. I narrowed the search location to Big and LIttle Cottonwood Canyon, date and time between November and May from the years 2010-2021, and contributing factors being adverse weather conditions, road surf condition, and vehicle contributing factors:

(Filters Enlarged Below)

There were a total of 458 crashes between 2010 and 2021 for these criteria(This number will adjust slightly based on the exact borders of the location). The largest vehicle contributing factor was immediately apparent: Tires.

In 2021, Udot had introduced a sticker system where your car would be inspected to drive in the Cottonwood Canyons before winter began. If your car had the requisite 4x4 and proper tires, you were given a sticker to place on your vehicle showing that it was ready to drive the Cottonwoods in the snow. Unfortunately, the stickers were next to useless because there was often no enforcement of the 4x4/chains rule in the canyon to begin with, leading to the lines of traffic that we have all come to know at this point especially caused by car accidents involving vehicles that did not have 4x4, proper tires or chains.. What I am proposing is simple: To reduce the number of vehicle crashes, implement UDOT’s sticker system but in a mandatory format, with actual enforcement of the 4x4/chains rule in the canyon. There should be an inspection point at the mouth of both canyons. I’m not as familiar with Big Cottonwood, but you could even go so far as to turn the park and ride by Little Cottonwood into an inspection lot and use the North entrance to Little Cottonwood to flow through that lot. The South entrance to Little Cottonwood could then be used as a sticker only lane. No sticker means you have to go through the mandatory inspection on days where it will snow, or is already snowing. Fund the enforcement of this rule via a price to purchase the sticker that would be effective, but not overly expensive(50 dollars or less in my opinion).

This is a drastic measure, but certainly not as drastic as spending half a billion dollars(as estimated in 2020) to build the Gondola, and it could be implemented far sooner than a Gondola could be built. Reducing accidents in the canyon by this method would help to avoid the traffic jams that continue to grow each year and get everyone home safely.

I can't say I have any way to make this reach the right people, but I've always felt saying something is better than saying nothing, and I am open to any and all feedback around this idea.