You might as well make the best of getting stuck at a ski resort on a sunny day.
A few thousand people stranded in Big Cottonwood Canyon managed to ski, party, read and sunbathe while crews down the road freed a trapped truck driver and tried to right his rolled-over truck.Salt Lake County deputy sheriffs closed the mountain road for nearly seven hours as crews worked to stabilize the truck, filled with explosive fuel.
"It's just one of those things that happened that inconvenienced a lot of people. I'm sure the driver of the truck wasn't happy about it," said Lt. Lee Smith.
"We didn't have any spill of fuel at all, have any fire break out, so in that respect we were very lucky," Smith said.
The small truck carrying 2,800 gallons of propane lost its brakes coming downthe canyon just before the Storm Mountain slide area, about 4 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon.
The driver, Michael D. Pueblo, 30, Salt Lake City, and a passenger, David Manwearing, 32, Bountiful, were treated and released at Cottonwood Hospital for abrasions and bruises suffered in the 12:40 p.m. Thursday rollover, Smith said. It was 7:20 p.m. when traffic was allowed to pass.
About half of the propane in the crashed truck was transferred to a second truck. Firemen then placed airbags under the wrecked tanker and lifted it high enough to check it for leaks and damage. After inspecting the truck, fire officials decided to try and right the vehicle rather than vent off and burn the remaining fuel. The plan proved successful, allowing the damaged truck to be towed from the scene by a wrecker with its cargo intact.
While deputies debated how best to get skiers down the canyon if it was closed until midnight as planned, people above the blockade were making the best of the situation.
A Solitude resort official estimated 4,000 people were milling around the canyon waiting for the narrow road to reopen. Swimsuits and shorts were popular attire as temperatures climbed into the upper 50s.
The Salt Lake Board of Realtors, which held an employee ski day at Solitude, extended a planned party. Meanwhile, lines to the phones, toilets, snack bars and liquor store were up to 25 deep as stranded motorists found entertainment and took care of their needs.
"Most people took it in stride, although those waiting in line to use the telephone did get testy if somebody took more than a few seconds to make a call," said Pam Wade, associate city editor of the Deseret News, who was stuck in the canyon for seven hours on her day off.
Karen Hartman from Hershey, Pa., and her husband rented a condominium in the valley for their ski vacation. "Nightmares follow me wherever I go," she said as people wandered around and passed rumors about when the road would open.
"I always wanted to get stuck up here when I was a teenager. Now I'm older and get stuck up here, it's a pain," said one woman after standing in a telephone line more than an hour waiting to call her children.
Uncertainty was the biggest problem, according to Wade. People who were stopped above Storm Mountain around 1:30 were told the canyon would be clear within 20 minutes. Some people even passed the wreckage to enter the canyon before roadblocks went up, assuming the canyon would be cleared before they returned a few hours later.
Then, officials said the canyon would open at 4 p.m. Soon, people spread the word that it would be past midnight before the truck could be moved, so the stranded skiers were told to return to the resorts and wait it out.