Guest opinion: Avalanche danger is high. Heed the warnings.
On Friday morning as I was writing the following, I was unaware that a young man got caught in an avalanche on Conehead in the Dutch Draw area and did not survive. My sincere condolences to his family and friends and deep respect for those who participated in the rescue effort.
As predicted with huge sales in backcountry equipment, especially splitboards, we have a dramatic increase of inexperienced backcountry riders.This fact was on full display along the Park City ridgeline last week. Unfortunately we have a terrible snowpack. It is shallow and unstable.The forecast from the Utah Avalanche Center has read the same for quite some time: CONSIDERABLE danger exists on upper-elevation slopes facing every direction but southwest and south. All week the message from the UAC was to avoid any upper-elevation West through Southeast slopes over 30 degrees. Last Monday, a splitboarder skinned across the middle of upper Pointy Peak, a 40-degree slope facing east — I can’t believe it didn’t slide. He then proceeded one slope to the north and boarded down East Sound of Music (40 degrees), which didn’t slide until he got near the bottom and just missed burying him, lucky guy. Tuesday morning we received 5 to 10 inches of dense snow with significant wind loading and our unstable snowpack got more unstable.
I witnessed firsthand how fragile the snowpack was. While skinning on the ridge above Desolation Lake, I unintentionally, remotely triggered significant avalanches that fractured on the slope below me. This reinforced mine and my partner’s plan of skiing slopes less than 30 degrees.
On Wednesday while riding up Tombstone on the Canyons Village side of Park City Mountain Resort, I saw a big slide on Hanging Snowfield (40 degrees) with tracks going in but not out and figured someone was either died or got seriously injured. I inquired with the patrol at the top of 9990 and they said no one got caught, thankfully. Kudos to the patrol for screening folks and informing them of the avalanche danger as they headed for the gate on top of 9990. Through the course of the day I was dumbfounded to see what people were skiing and boarding down. Three tracks down Conehead, an exposed steep slope on Dutch Draw and the site of one of last year’s avalanche fatalities. Easter Bowl — tracks and slide. Wall of Voodoo — tracks and slide. Five tracks on the left of Square Top and two on the right and finally two tracks to the right and one to the left of the slide I had triggered on Desolation the day before. All of these slopes are 35 to 45 degrees. There were numerous other avalanches and a carry reported to the UAC on Wednesday.
On Thursday I witnessed more reckless behavior, primarily folks with no avalanche gear, skiing and boarding the Dutch Draw area with multiple people at a time on the slope (please, one at time).
Obviously there are a lot folks out there who do not read the UAC forecast (it’s posted online and at the bottom of the 9990 hike) and do not have the proper knowledge to leave the resort. A beacon, probe, shovel and airbag without knowledge are no help. If you don’t know, don’t go. With over 60 COVID cases a day in Summit County, getting buried or burying someone else in an avalanche is not fair to those who will rescue or try to rescue you.
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Letters, Jan. 16-19: Additional safety measures are needed at dangerous backcountry location near PCMR
Luke Hanley from Jeremy Ranch says skiers and boarders accessing Dutch Draw through PCMR should be required to carry avalanche gear. “After decades of evidence, why can’t we admit that the scary sign at the top of 9990 does not work?”