Winter Driving Tips for the Cottonwood Canyons

Traveling up to Brighton this past weekend, I got to experience the craziness that is driving up the Cottonwood Canyons (SR-210 and SR-190) during a winter storm. Let’s just say I saw a lot of people needing to be pushed out of the Brighton parking lot (gratitude to the lot attendants!) because their vehicles could not get through the deep snow. With me being a transplant from Washington state, it got me thinking – what is different about Utah traction tire requirements?

Utah receives up to 500” annually in snowfall, meaning the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has a big job in managing the roads each year. They seem to be on top of it from how many snowplows they have clearing the roads, to making sure to offer several resources for real-time travel updates. To keep the Cottonwood Canyons safer, they have a sticker program and a strong monitoring of traction control (snow tires and chains).

Let’s break down some of Utah winter driving requirements, and how to know if your vehicle is safe to drive up the Cottonwood Canyons.

Image provided by Utah Department of Transportation

Utah Traction Laws

UDOT states that, “Winter weather conditions require the use of traction devices on vehicles.” Traction devices are considered to be snow tires, chains, or snow socks. Keep in mind that All-Season tires are not sufficient for winter weather driving conditions under Utah’s traction law. 

2-Wheel Drive vehicles under 12,000 lbs GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) must have 3PMSF rated tires on all wheels, or traction devices (chains, snow socks, etc.) on all drive wheels. Not sure if your tires are 3PMSF? Look for the “Three Peak Mountain Snowflake” symbol imprinted on the sidewall of your tires.

The “Three Peak Mountain Snowflake” symbol “indicates that the tires meet certain U.S Tire Manufacturer Association (USTMA) requirements for severe snow conditions,” according to Les Schwab. Tires that have this symbol are tested and proven to provide traction on medium-packed snow.


4-Wheel Drive and All-Wheel Drive vehicles must have 3PMSF or M+S (mud and snow) rated tires, or chains on all wheels under Utah’s traction laws. Similar to the 3PMSF symbol, tires that are M+S rated will have a M/S or M+S imprinted on the tire sidewall. 

Even though AWD and 4WD are able to use M+S-rated tires, it is still recommended that 3PMSF tires are used for winter driving conditions.

Rental Vehicles and the Cottonwood Canyons

If you are traveling to Utah this winter, ensure you reserve a 4WD or AWD vehicle. It’s more common that rental companies outfit their 4WD and AWD vehicles with All-Season tires rather than M+S or 3PMSF rated tires. To be 100% certain your rental vehicle meets the Utah traction laws, check with your rental company.

Cottonwood Canyons Road Conditions

Thankfully, UDOT offers many different ways to access Big Cottonwood (Solitude and Brighton) and Little Cottonwood (Alta and Snowbird) road condition information. If you’re a social media fan, check out their Twitter account @UDOTCottonwoods for real-time updates. UDOT also has Instagram (@UDOTCottonwoods) and Facebook (@UDOTCottonwoodCanyons) accounts that offer the same real-time updates.

Real-time updates are also available on UDOT’s mobile app. You can find information on road conditions, restrictions, and any possible closures. 

UDOT traffic app UDOT traffic iPhone app download QR code UDOT traffic Android mobile app download QR code

Snowplow Safety

UDOT offers a snowplow map available online and on their mobile app. This feature shows you exactly where the state snowplows are located within a few minute accuracy.

Snowplow Tips

  • Give the snowplows distance – Snowplows are wide and require a lot of space to properly clear roads. Give them the room to work. Don’t tailgate or attempt to pass them, especially during storm conditions. If you must pass, do so with caution.
  • Slower speeds – Snowplows travel below the posted speed limit. Give them space and expect that there may be a slight delay – but that’s okay because they’re there to make sure the roads are safe for you.
  • Low visibility – Snowplow operators have limited visibility. They may not always see you. Keep this in mind when navigating around or following snowplows. Keep distance in case they make any sudden stops or turns.
ski lift in Utah

Be Ready

The number one tip is to fill up your car’s fuel tank before you drive up either of the canyons. Anything can happen – traffic, delays, avy control, and more. Keep your car fueled up and ready every trip up the Cottonwood Canyons this winter.

It’s also a smart idea to keep spare items in your vehicle at all times:

  1. Extra sets of warm clothes
  2. Food and water
  3. Phone chargers and portable charging devices
  4. Several blankets

Now that your vehicle is ready to go, check out our Utah Ski Resorts Parking Guide for the 22/23 Season!

We would also like to thank Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) for sharing their snowplow images with us! Visit their site for more Utah traffic and road condition information.