Fatal avalanche hits just outside Ninety-Nine 90 access gate at PCMR (updated)
A 45-year-old Salt Lake City man died Sunday after being caught in an avalanche just outside the boundary of Park City Mountain Resort, according to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials said that Raymond M. Tauszik had accessed the backcountry area known as Dutch Draw from the Ninety-Nine 90 gate at the Canyons Village side of PCMR.
The first people to arrive on scene were fellow backcountry skiers who saw the slide and then saw a snowboard sticking out of the debris field, Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright said.
Once they realized the snowboard was attached to a human, they dug him out of about 3 feet of snow and immediately began CPR. Wright said Tauszik was not breathing or conscious when he was removed from the snowpack.
First responders continued CPR until Tauszik was transported down the mountain and taken by ambulance to Park City Hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 12:45 p.m. The Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call notifying them of the slide shortly before 11 a.m.
“We send our sincere condolences to the family of the deceased man,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a prepared statement. “We are also very grateful to the citizens who worked their hardest to save this man’s life.”
The slide was triggered just below a cliff band in the popular and easily accessible backcountry area, which was also the site of fatal slides in 2012 and 2005. Mark Staples, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, said the area would be visible from the Ninety-Nine 90 chairlift.
Photos of the scene show ski tracks near the site, as well as the remnants of a slide from two days prior. Staples said there were other people skiing in the area.
He said avalanches are all about timing, that sometimes the slope is safe, and sometimes someone hits the exact wrong spot.
“It’s not always the first person to trigger the avalanche,” Staples said. “One of the key things we teach in classes — tracks on slope don’t mean it’s stable. It’s very difficult to understand. It’s a very rational thought to think, ‘Oh look, someone skied it, it must be OK.”
The area where the slide occurred is “steep, rocky (and) avalanche prone,” according to the Utah Avalanche Center, and the gate to access the site is marked with signs that include the words “you can die” and a large skull and crossbones.
The avalanche forecast for that day identified “considerable” danger most pronounced on northwest to easterly facing terrain at mid and upper elevations.
“In this terrain, human triggered slides may step down 3-4’ deep and hundreds of feet wide,” according to the forecast. “This terrain is to be avoided.”
The slide occurred on a slope referred to as “Conehead” that sits around 9,600 feet in elevation and has a northeast aspect. The slide was about 3-feet deep and 100-feet wide. Tauszik was the only person caught. He was skiing alone and without avalanche gear, said Chad Brackelsberg, executive director of the Utah Avalanche Center.
The Utah Avalanche Center says that most avalanche fatalities occur during times of “considerable” danger because that is when humans interact with the terrain the most. The forecast on Sunday was downgraded from “high,” where it had been in preceding days because of heavy snowfall.
The center defines a “considerable” rating as dangerous, with natural avalanches possible and human-triggered avalanches likely.
Staples said times immediately after storms can be particularly perilous, as natural warning signs that indicate danger like heavy snowfall, limited visibility and severe wind can be supplanted by sunny skies, lulling users into a false sense of security.
Avalanche experts including Staples were on the scene Monday morning to gather data that will be used to try to improve forecasts and reduce avalanche danger.
Brackelsberg said accidents like this are challenging for officials, as the weather forecast appeared to accurately convey the danger.
“Definitely a heavy heart for staff,” he said.
He added the center is always reevaluating how it disseminates information in an attempt to improve the forecasts’ reach.
The Summit County Wildland Fire Unit is a county-founded, volunteer-run resource created to assist with an extended wildfire.
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