An estimated 4,000 skiers and snowboarders were stranded for much of the weekend after 2 feet of fresh snow and avalanches blocked a canyon highway. Roads were cleared Sunday night, allowing them to leave.
The highway to the Snowbird and Alta ski resorts became blocked Saturday afternoon, but by late Sunday, it had been cleared enough to allow people to go back home.
More than 2,000 people snowbound at Snowbird crammed halls, restaurants and conference rooms to sleep Saturday night because motel rooms were nearly full before the storm struck. The resort passed out all the blankets it could find.
“I’ve seen people using tablecloths for blankets. It’s just been horrendous,” said switchboard operator Trista Conde.
Sheriff’s deputies estimated another 2,000 people had been stuck at Alta.
Snowbird’s restaurants ran out of food Saturday night before everyone was fed, but one restaurant was able to provide complimentary breakfasts Sunday, Conde said.
Many of the snowbound skiers waiting for the highway to be opened headed back to the slopes Sunday. Snowbird had all but two of its lifts running.
One avalanche buried 45 cars in a parking lot at Snowbird on Saturday. Another snowslide at Alta swamped a sheriff’s deputy’s truck and some pedestrians Saturday night, but no one was injured, authorities said.
Gordon Hanks and his family were eating lunch in their car at Snowbird when it was hit by a slide off the face of Mount Superior.
“The windshield blew in on us and shattered, and the front compartment of the car filled totally with snow,” Hanks said.
It took him 10 minutes to dig his wife and five children out of the buried car.
Meanwhile in the upper Middle West, North Dakota’s interstates and other major roads were reopened Sunday, most for the first time since Thursday when a storm piled snow in drifts up to 16 feet high. But many people still were digging out Sunday.
Shirley Kraft of Mandan, N.D., said her Ford Ranger pickup was buried under a 12-foot drift.
“The pickup just sort of disappeared,” she said. “It’s pretty big, and there’s a lot of dang snow on it.”
Nearly 500 miles of Interstates 94 and 29 had been closed in North Dakota. Minnesota and South Dakota earlier had reopened hundreds of miles of Interstates 29, 94 and 90.
On Sunday, President Clinton declared North Dakota a major disaster area, making the entire state eligible for federal funding.
In the mountains of northern New Mexico, up to 3 feet of snow fell, making highways dangerously slippery.
Interstate 25 was closed early Sunday between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, N.M., stranding travelers, and Interstate 40 was shut down briefly between Moriarty and Tucumcari.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Montana’s record cold Temperatures Sunday morning in Montana were below zero statewide, dropping to minus 40 at West Yellowstone in extreme southern Montana and to minus 37 at Havre in north-central Montana. Helena hit a record minus 33, and Billings set a record minus 29.