Guest opinion: The ongoing closure of PCMR backcountry gates impedes access to public land
Park City is home to a growing and increasingly diverse backcountry community that shares an appreciation and love for the off-piste Wasatch experience. Having the Park City ridgeline in our backyard is a privilege that some of us have enjoyed for upwards of 50 years. From the various historical access points and approaches, we’ve navigated the patchwork of shared public and private land to earn our turns in our local, world-class winter terrain.
Following the second tragic avalanche accident this season and a period of extreme avalanche conditions, Vail Resorts closed the Canyons-side backcountry access gates at Park City Mountain Resort indefinitely. Devastated by the loss of an avid and beloved long-time local backcountry skier, many waited patiently and welcomed discussion surrounding improved avalanche awareness and backcountry access. Because the vast majority of avalanche victims leaving the Canyons gates did not have a beacon, shovel and probe, requiring avalanche gear to leave the backcountry gates seemed like a logical response to many locals. As the weeks passed and avalanche conditions improved, we have reached out to Vail Resorts, local leaders and other stakeholders. We have written letters and made phone calls to no avail. Next year’s season passes are now on sale and still no official announcement from Vail Resorts regarding the future of the backcountry gates.
The unresolved and ongoing closure of the backcountry gates on the Canyons side of PCMR is unprecedented, unacceptable and impedes our right to access our shared public lands. Permanent closure of the backcountry access would be the end of an era and a disservice to the next generation of backcountry enthusiasts and public land stewards.
• We petition Vail Resorts to reinstate U.S. National Forest access from the Park City ridgeline immediately and for the remainder of the 2020-2021 ski season.
Due to the increasingly limited access, many of us buy the Epic Pass primarily to use the backcountry gates. We were especially grateful this year to avoid the resort crowds and gain a sense of peace and solitude in the midst of a global pandemic. Since Feb. 2 pass holders have not only been denied access to their public lands but denied a voice in the decision-making process and left in the dark in terms of decisions made and future plans.
While final gate decisions may be Vail Resorts’ to make, they should not occur in a vacuum without meaningful community input. The stakeholders most directly impacted by this decision and most noticeably absent from the conversation thus far are the skiers and riders that use the backcountry access and the ski patrol that will have to maintain, enforce and respond to access-related issues.
• We petition that Vail Resorts include ALL stakeholders in the decision-making process moving forward. We are directly impacted by their decision. We have a voice and we deserve to be heard.
Rumors are now surfacing that Vail Resorts has made a decision to keep the gates closed for the remainder of the season and permanently close the 9990 access gate. If this is true, we do not support this decision. While the location of the 9990 lift is problematic for several reasons, that is where the lift is and the hike provides the safest access to the ridgeline.
• We petition our local nonprofits, leaders and representatives to publicly voice their support to reinstate National Forest access for those in our community most directly impacted by Vail Resorts’ decision. We believe that with proper input, corporate and community concerns can be addressed for mutual benefit.
If you support reinstating National Forest access from the Canyons side of PCMR and that local stakeholders should be informed and engaged in gate decisions moving forward, please let your voice be heard and sign this petition at change.org/nationalforestaccesspetition.
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Skier, mountaineer, environmental activist and Park City resident Caroline Gleich writes that Andy Beerman’s commitment to the climate is vital to Park City’s future.