Thanks, Mother Nature, but that’s plenty
February 5, 2008
An avalanche broke free in a closed section of Deer Valley Resort on Saturday, triggering a search for victims before the rescue crews determined nobody was trapped beneath the snow and ice.
The slide, which Deer Valley says was up to 200 feet long, 200 feet wide and up to five feet deep, came as relentless snowfall pounded the Park City area, heightening the avalanche danger. The National Weather Service reports 26 inches of snow fell at Jupiter Peak between Sunday morning and Monday evening, and snow was heavy the week before. Early in the week the Utah Avalanche Center said the avalanche danger was moderate in the Park City area and considerable in the western Uinta Mountains.
According to Erin Grady, a Deer Valley spokeswoman, the resort’s ski patrollers saw the avalanche’s slide path during a routine sweep of the Daly Chutes area, steep, expert-rated terrain off the Empire Express lift, at 11:15 a.m. The path was found in Chutes 5 and 6, the resort says.
The terrain where the slide occurred has not been open this ski season, and resort officials say it typically does not open until March, when enough snow has usually accumulated to make the area safe for skiers.
Chuck English, who directs Deer Valley’s mountain operations, says a set of skier tracks was found above the avalanche zone, and there were numerous tracks below the slide area. The tracks prompted the rescue effort.
He says the tracks at the top were made Saturday morning. He assumes that a skier knocked off a cornice of snow, causing the avalanche.
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Ski patrollers from Deer Valley brought probes and two rescue dogs to the scene, and Park City Mountain Resort sent more dogs and patrollers. Summit County’s Search and Rescue squad, Park City police officers and ski patrollers from The Canyons were put on stand-by alert. A medical helicopter was called, and the chopper flew over the slide zone with avalanche transponders.
Deer Valley says the depth of the slide is difficult to determine with certainty because ski patrollers had previously set off controlled avalanches at the location.
Twenty ski patrollers and five rescue dogs responded. The search ended at about 1:40 p.m.
"It’s closed. It’s a dangerous area. We don’t have it open for a reason," says Steve Graff, who manages Deer Valley’s ski patrol. "People should respect the ropes."
Snow emergency suspended
City Hall suspended its ‘Snow Emergency’ at noon on Monday, but officials say parked cars in neighborhoods "make it extremely difficult" for the snowplow crews.
The city says people without driveways can park at the Racquet Club, the lot near the skateboard park in City Park and on the covered levels of the China Bridge garage. Doing so will make it easier for the snowplow crews, the city says.
Meanwhile, the local government warns people it is illegal to move snow from private property to a public street. The practice, however, is common in places where there is little room on someone’s property to store the snow. It is especially prevalent in Old Town, where many people have small yards.
The city also wants people to clear at least 3-foot circles of snow from the space around fire hydrants on their property, which is required by a City Hall law. People must also clear sidewalks and public stairways next to their property within eight hours of the end of a storm, City Hall says.
Information about snowplowing, shoveling and other rules is available by calling the Public Works Department at 615-5301 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. At other times, people can leave a message on the city’s ‘Snow Hotline,’ 615-5346.
Ex-official injured at home
Former Park City Councilwoman Marianne Cone broke her right leg in late January after snow and ice hit her as it cascaded off the roof of her Old Town house.
She underwent surgery and is wearing a brace, Cone says. She left office in January after serving one term on the City Council.
Cone says she was standing on a snow bank next to the roof as her husband and a neighbor were clearing snow from the roof. They dislodged the snow, and it careened into her.
"I’ve skirted danger for 32 years," she says. "This time, I had no time to react whatsoever."
The ice and snow, which she says measured about 2 feet deep, struck her leg, knocking her over. She says her house was leaking, convincing her and her husband, former Park City School Board member David Chaplin, to clear the snow from the roof. Cone says she worries about others suffering similar injuries as Parkites continue digging out of the recent snows.
Jeff Smith, who owns a roofing company, says most of his calls in the last week have been from people wanting snow removed from roofs or from people whose roofs are leaking.
He says the danger of snow falling from roofs is "very real."
Newer houses are better designed to handle the snow, he says. Many roofs in Old Town predate the newly designed ones, though.
Smith’s crews outfit themselves in body harnesses and ropes before they climb onto a roof to clear the snow.
"When this much snow cuts off, it will be tons of snow," Smith says.