Third avalanche in a week at one site shows weak snowpack persists in backcountry
For the second time in three days and the third time in a week, an avalanche on Tuesday ripped down a slope in the popular and accessible backcountry area known as Dutch Draw just outside of the Canyons Village side of Park City Mountain Resort.
The area was the site of a fatal avalanche Dec. 15 that claimed the life of a 45-year-old Salt Lake City man who left behind a wife and small child. There were also fatal slides at the location in 2012 and 2005.
Tuesday’s slide was touched off by a skier using a snow kite, according to a report from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. The skier was not caught in the slide or hurt, but since the person was able to essentially fly away, there were no tracks leading from the slide path.
That led to the Sheriff’s Office mobilizing Search and Rescue personnel, including helicopters. Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright said that can be a costly endeavor, and might have been avoided if the person had self-reported the avalanche and notified authorities no one had been caught.
In a press release, Wright said that it helps law enforcement when slides are reported.
“The Summit County Sheriff’s Office urges skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers or anyone in the backcountry who triggers an avalanche to please call our office immediately at 435-615-3601 or 911,” the release states. “It is NOT a criminal violation to trigger an avalanche, and no action will be taken against anyone who reports an avalanche.”
The area in question can be accessed by the Ninety-Nine 90 gate, which is a short hike from the top of a lift at the Canyons Village side of Park City Mountain Resort. Much of the area is visible from the chairlift and riders can return to the bottom of the lift, making it nearly lift-accessed backcountry terrain. Signs at the gate feature a skull and crossbones and the words “You can die.”
Seeing tracks from other skiers on terrain can be tempting, the director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center has said.
There is no avalanche mitigation work done at the site, such as the bombing work done by ski patrollers for resort terrain, so despite it being adjacent to PCMR runs, the slopes are much more dangerous.
The Utah Avalanche Center’s Tuesday avalanche forecast listed the risk as “considerable” for similar slopes as the one that slid, indicating human-caused avalanches would be likely.
The forecasts can be found at utahavalanchecenter.org/forecast/.
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