Skier tells of mine-tunnel episode at Deer Valley |

Skier tells of mine-tunnel episode at Deer Valley

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Bruce Rogers on Monday was enjoying the late-season snow during a day of skiing at Deer Valley Resort with a friend from Park City.

Visiting from Hailey, Idaho, Rogers, a 50-year-old expert skier who has logged time in the backcountry in Utah, Idaho and Canada, was carving his turns in the ungroomed terrain off the resort’s Lady Morgan Express lift, in the upper reaches of Deer Valley.

It was at about 11:15 a.m. when he picked a line in the trees on the skier’s left side near the lift. He was about halfway down and stopped to survey the terrain around him. Suddenly a strange feeling swept over him. The snow beneath his skis was moving. He reacted quickly as the snow cratered inward toward the mountain.

"It just felt like the ground giving way under my heels . . . It was thoroughly confusing," he says. "A bit bewildering for a momentary second."

Rogers had stopped atop a patch of snow on top of what a Deer Valley spokeswoman says is the opening of a historic mine tunnel. The spokeswoman says Deer Valley was unaware of the tunnel before the Monday episode, one of the more unusual on record involving a mining-era relic in Park City.

Erin Grady, the spokeswoman, says the tunnel does not appear on any maps Deer Valley holds showing mining-era sites on the resort grounds. She says, though, not every mining site was mapped, including ones deemed to be exploratory in nature. Grady says construction crews who built the lift before the 2007-2008 ski season did not notice the tunnel, which she describes as being in an "obscure area" and not on one of the resort’s designated runs.

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Silver mining dominated Park City’s economy for a century before the ski industry emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. Remnants from the silver-mining era dot the mountains, and much of the land where Deer Valley is now located played an important role in the industry.

Deer Valley plans to report the incident to state regulators. A spokesperson for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining said on Thursday the division had not been contacted yet. The division houses the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program. State offices were closed Friday.

Grady says Deer Valley speculates recent warm weather melted the snow around the opening and it gave way. The opening has since been marked and blocked off, she says. Grady says mine openings have been discovered at Deer Valley occasionally, but nobody had ever fallen into one.

There have been two other well-publicized episodes involving remnants from the mining days since last summer. In July, the ground on top of a mine shaft collapsed into the shaft just off the Rail Trail in Prospector, creating a large, sinkhole-like opening. In October, meanwhile, a construction crew at the Montage site in Empire Pass unearthed a cache of antique explosives that officials said was leftover from the mining era.

At Deer Valley, Rogers, the skier, quickly reached out with his hands when the snow sank around him, catching himself with his lower arms six feet below where he had stopped skiing. He saw the darkness of the mine shaft below him.

Rogers managed to wiggle one of his poles in the air and a woman he was skiing with saw the pole. She rushed to the spot and skied to the downhill side of the shaft. He released one of his skis with a pole and the other one with his free boot. She took the poles. Rogers says he gripped onto her right boot with one hand. He then lunged to grab the boot with both hands.

Holding onto her boot, he kicked steps into the snow around the opening and crawled out. His friend, Lynn Peek, retrieved one of his skis. The other one remained where he had been caught. Rogers says he went down to get the other ski and climbed out over rocks and by kicking steps into the snow. He was not injured.

"Looking down, you couldn’t tell what was down there, if anything," he says about the opening beneath him.