You’ve seen the signs, you’ve heard the warnings – but what exactly is Interlodge and why do we have it in Alta?
What is Interlodge?
Unique to Alta, Utah – Interlodge is defined as a “…Town of Alta ordinance 5-4-1, which allows the Alta Marshal to prohibit outdoor travel during periods of high avalanche hazard or when Utah Department of Transportation avalanche mitigation work is scheduled or in progress.”
When “Interlodge Travel Restrictions” are in effect, that means everyone must remain indoors and travel between lodges or buildings within the town of Alta is illegal and unsafe. But why?
Understanding Avalanche Hazard & Mitigation
Alta Ski Area has a storied history as the birthplace of avalanche mitigation in the United States and is, to this day, still considered a headquarters for snow science and avalanche research. To learn more about that history, we highly recommend reading this article from Ski Utah.
One of the reasons Alta is the epicenter of this research is because we are located in a particularly avalanche-prone canyon. Little Cottonwood Canyon receives an average of 545 inches of snow annually. With the steep and rugged terrain throughout the canyon, when that snow comes in too heavy, too fast, or with too much wind, the danger of natural avalanches occurring increases. These natural avalanches run the risk of sliding all the way onto the highway, into parking lots, or even hitting town buildings.
In an effort to avoid unexpected natural avalanches, teams from the Utah Department of Transportation, Alta Ski Patrol, Snowbird Ski Patrol, and Town of Alta work together to mitigate that risk by attempting to encourage these avalanches to happen in a controlled environment. Mitigation efforts include the use of a variety of forms of artillery and explosive devices and other avalanche-specific technologies. The idea is simple, impact the slope with significant force to release the snow on cue, rather than waiting for it to happen unexpectedly.
Interlodge Exists for Our Safety
By enforcing Interlodge restrictions, town and patrol officials can perform the necessary avalanche mitigation without running the risk of having anyone get caught, buried, or injured in an avalanche (whether they be in their car, skiing, or walking). By requiring that everyone remain indoors, they know that all guests, employees, residents, and anyone else who might be visiting the canyon, are safe.
While avalanche mitigation efforts such as these occur at ski resorts across the world, Alta is unique in that they happen within such close proximity to a town inhabited by residents and hotel guests alike.
When Does Interlodge Happen?
Interlodge is at the discretion of town officials and is entirely dependent on the weather and the avalanche risk that comes with it. Luckily, these days, weather forecasts and predictions are accurate enough that we can sometimes anticipate when to expect an Interlodge. If it is snowing steadily overnight and avalanche danger is rising, it is not unlikely that some mitigation work will have to take place when the sun comes up.
On many occasions, town officials will announce an upcoming Interlodge event the night before it takes effect. In these instances, it is common for the Interlodge to begin at 6:00 AM. Knowing in advance is always appreciated, especially if your travel plans have you scheduled to fly out that morning. The advance notice allows guests to reschedule flights or plan to leave the canyon in the early morning hours, before Interlodge closures, to make it to the airport in time for departure.
However, we can’t always predict what Mother Nature has in store. Sometimes, weather changes dramatically and we are only given a moment’s notice before Interlodge goes into effect because the avalanche danger is immediate. For this reason, Interlodge can be called at any time of the day or night. In those cases, day skiers must take up shelter in the nearest building. Stories of skiers spending the night on the floor on the Albion Grill are not as uncommon as you think.
How Long Does Interlodge Last?
A typical Interlodge will last from 6:00 AM – 8:00 AM. This is on days when the storm has passed quickly, the skies have cleared, and crews feel they can carry out all the necessary control work in the first daylight hours. However, even an anticipated opening of 8:00 AM is not a guarantee. If the avalanche results are more severe than expected, this timeframe can easily be pushed back. Please refer to our “resources” section below for a few different ways to stay up to date on current restrictions and expected openings.
Most Interlodge events only last a few hours, but some can extend beyond that – sometimes resulting in an additional overnight stay. In February of 2020, Alta set a new record for the longest continual Interlodge event, totaling 52 consecutive hours!
Whenever Interlodge Restrictions are in effect, there is always an accompanying closure of the road into Little Cottonwood Canyon. This ensures that no one is in their vehicle and at risk of driving into a potentially hazardous avalanche situation.
Additionally, there are times when it is still safe to be skiing and walking about town in Alta, but there is a partial mid-canyon road closure to mitigate the avalanche risk in the steepest parts of the canyon (below Alta and Snowbird). This mid-canyon closure can occur for a few hours during the day, and announcements will be posted at the base of the ski lifts.
Road closures are not soft suggestions or warnings, they are strictly enforced. No one is allowed to enter or exit the canyon when the road is closed. That includes hotel guests arriving via shuttle, public buses, private vehicles, everyone!
The Benefits of Staying at Alta Lodge
While Interlodge can bring a certain level of uncertainty, you can rest assured that a stay at the Lodge means you have nothing to worry about. For starters, you know that you have a safe and cozy place to cuddle up, stay warm, and watch the snow fall outside – and you certainly won’t go hungry!
Our staff does an excellent job of keeping our guests informed. We have been in the business of hosting hotel guests in Alta for over 80 years, and we have tried and true protocols in place in the event of an Interlodge or road closure. When an Interlodge event is announced, you will see signs posted throughout the common areas with all the necessary information. If you are scheduled to depart during the Interlodge restriction time, our Front Desk will reach out to you individually to ensure you have a plan in place for getting back home.
Alta Shuttle, our trusted transportation partner, is also on your side when travel is delayed. If a morning road closure is announced, they will arrange to send extra shuttles up the canyon for a special early morning pick-up to make sure all guests who need to be at the airport in the morning have a ride. Or, if you decide to push your flight back so you can get some fresh turns in before you depart, there is no charge for switching your shuttle time to later in the day (or the next day!). And if there is a closure on your arrival day, Alta Shuttle is in the loop, tracking the road status and first in line when the canyon opens.
Perhaps the BEST part about staying at Alta Lodge when an Interlodge happens is that once it is over, you can be one of the first people in the lift line to ski all the fresh snow. After all, that average of 545″ of annual snowfall is why we are all here, isn’t it?! If you are really lucky, Interlodge will be lifted before the road is able to open completely – meaning Alta becomes a private playground for only those fortunate enough to already be in the canyon. Here in Alta, that is what we call a “Country Club” day.
Last, but not least, an Interlodge is really something special. Whether you get to ski the deepest snow of your life, make a new friend over a game of cards in the Sitzmark, or miss your dreaded Monday meeting because you had to reschedule your flight, you will have a story to share for years to come and memories that last a lifetime.
Additional Resources for Staying Updated on Current Interlodge/Road Closure Status
Phone: 801.742.3403 (Town of Alta Recorded Information Hotline)
Twitter: @AltaCentral @UDOTCottonwoods @AltaAlerts
Facebook: UDOT Cottonwood Canyons
Being Interlodge Prepared:
- Read the weather forecast!
- Always travel with food, water, a change of clean clothes.
- Keep a snow scraper and shovel in your car all winter.
- Be flexible with your travel plans.
- We recommend purchasing Travel Insurance for an Alta Lodge vacation. Interlodge is just one reason you might want to have costs covered if you need to reschedule a flight or change your plans.