Park City Mountain Resort closes Ninety-Nine 90 backcountry gate permanently after fatal avalanches
Peak 5 access point to reopen this year
In the wake of two out-of-bounds fatalities last winter, Park City Mountain Resort announced Friday that it would permanently close the backcountry access gate atop the Ninety-Nine 90 chairlift, ending an era of virtually direct chairlift access to the Park City ridgeline.
PCMR closed the gate early this year after the second fatal slide in a matter of weeks just outside the resort’s boundaries in terrain accessed through the gate.
In a prepared statement, PCMR Chief Operating Officer Mike Goar indicated the decision was prompted by last season’s deaths and was aimed at reducing the number of novice users who venture unequipped into the backcountry.
The resort also announced it would reopen a separate backcountry portal, which sits above the Peak 5 lift, after closing it last season.
“While both exits access the same area, the Peak 5 exit requires more hike-to effort, preparation and intention to reach the terrain. The Ninety-Nine 90 exit provided lift-served backcountry terrain that was accessible with minimal effort,” Goar said. “Even with extensive signage, this could attract unprepared backcountry skiers and riders.”
Those riding the Ninety-Nine 90 lift are often offered views of out-of-bounds runs on the ridgeline that sport relatively untouched snow even as the powder is skied off and conditions worsen on in-bounds terrain. The runs frequently have visible tracks that appear to indicate they are safe to ski.
The Ninety-Nine 90 gate was a short hike above the lift and a well-used path to it was generally present.
The popular backcountry area known as Dutch Draw is accessible just outside the gate and funnels back to the base of the lift. Other parts of the ridgeline are easily accessible from the area, as well.
One local longtime backcountry skier referred to runs from the Ninety-Nine 90 lift as an “executive tour” that offered the rare opportunity for three or four backcountry runs before lunch without having to hike for miles.
But backcountry touring can be a dangerous pursuit that claims the lives of even experienced riders. The ease of access and visible tracks on Dutch Draw, officials have indicated, could entice people who are not properly equipped or knowledgeable to travel in the terrain.
A sign posted near the Ninety-Nine 90 gate warns riders, “You can die.”
Dutch Draw has seen multiple fatalities over the years, including two fatal slides since 2019.
In both instances, the users entered the terrain through the Ninety-Nine 90 gate, as did an experienced backcountry rider who died earlier this year while riding to the north off the same ridgeline.
Goar indicated the fatalities changed the resort’s calculus about keeping the gate open.
“I can no longer reconcile the number of tragedies and the impact to the community and our employees with the desire to provide convenient, lift-served backcountry access from the Ninety-Nine 90 exit,” he said.
The hope is that the extra effort required to access the ridgeline from Peak 5 will winnow out backcountry users who don’t have the recommended gear and experience.
Experts recommend always traveling in the backcountry with a partner and for all members of a party to carry a beacon, shovel and probe. The beacon sends a signal to other beacons and is used to locate people buried under snow. The probe is used to hone in on their location when buried and the shovel is used to dig them out.
The nonprofit Utah Avalanche Center offers free daily forecasts of avalanche danger. Goar said the decision to close the gate was made in collaboration with officials from the U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Avalanche Center.
Officials from the agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Forest Service officials have repeatedly advocated for the resort to maintain access to public land outside its boundaries, but have said the decision whether to open or shut the gate was up to the resort, as it is on private land.
Many backcountry users, while acknowledging the tragedy of the fatalities, have advocated for the resort to reinstate access to the public lands beyond its borders. A petition calling for the reopening of the gates, which gathered more than 1,800 signatures, called the closures “the end of an era.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Summit County is set to pilot a vote-by-phone app, but GOP chair worries it ‘cheapens’ the voting process
Summit County is set to pilot a vote-by-phone app, but the county GOP chair worries it ‘cheapens’ the voting process.