After the backcountry gates at Park City Mountain Resort were closed earlier this month following the second deadly avalanche in the area of 2021, PCMR, the US Forest Service, and the Utah Avalanche Center met virtually on Tuesday to discuss the future of backcountry access from the resort.
Although Park City Mountain Resort does not patrol the backcountry and is not responsible for skiers and riders who access the backcountry by using their chairlifts, the gates on the Park City ridgeline do lie on property owned by the resort.
Access was closed earlier this month following two deadly avalanches in the area, both by skiers who used the gates at the resort to exit into the backcountry.
On Tuesday, representatives from the resort, the US Forest Service, and the Utah Avalanche Center met to discuss a way forward that balanced public safety and access to public land.
Although no decisions on the fate of the gates were made on Tuesday, the Utah Avalanche Center’s Drew Hardesty said the conversation was positive.
“There really seems to be a commitment to find a good common sense solution that’s going to work for all parties involved to include public access to public land,” Hardesty said. “There still are a lot of options on the table with pros and cons, but, again, this is something where Vail, Park City, Canyons, they have the right team in place to find those solutions and the Forest Service is there to help out and provide any perspective or any sort of assistance with outreach and education.”
As the gates are on resort property, the decision to open them back up or close them permanently is up to PCMR and PCMR only. Hardesty said the Avalanche Center and Forest Service are ultimately there to be advisors in the decision.
“The Forest Service and the Utah Avalanche Center, our job is to sort of help provide perspective and data to help them make that decision,” said Hardesty.
Hardesty says according to the Avalanche Center’s data, over half of the state’s backcountry fatalities since the 1999-2000 season have been skiers and riders who accessed the backcountry from one of the resorts.
At the PCMR gates, the dangers of leaving the patrolled resort are made abundantly clear before passing through them. The warnings keep out many who are unprepared, but even with proper avalanche safety gear like search beacons, shovels, and probes, the risk of death if a skier is caught in an avalanche is high.
Last weekend’s avalanche in Millcreek Canyon claimed the lives of four skiers who were all using proper avalanche gear.
Hardesty acknowledged that the situation is a complex one, but expressed confidence that a solution would be found.
“We have such a, in my view, such an amazing community, we all know each other, we’re friends, we’re colleagues, we’re all professionals and to have a dialogue like that, I just really appreciate knowing who’s on the other end of the table and I feel like it will all come back down and try to figure out, again, some good solutions,” he said. “Once again, we’re there in an advisory and, sort of, supporting role and I feel confident we’ll find a good solution.”
Hardesty said as of Wednesday, no further meetings have been scheduled.
With Utah’s snowpack still changing and more snow in the forecast this week, avalanche danger remains considerable throughout the state. The Utah Avalanche Center gives a daily avalanche report on air every morning on KPCW.