“Unfortunately, over the years, we’ve had a number of fatalities and other serious injuries from skiers and snowboarders exiting from the 9990 gate. Coming out of the terribly unfortunate fatalities of last winter, we again engaged in these conversations, and just felt that 9990 provided access that was so simple for people to utilize from the 9990 lift. Many of them ill-equipped, and it was something that we needed to take a different tact on.”- Mike Goar, Park City Mountain Resort COO

Park City Mountain Resort delivered a major L to the backcountry community on Friday, as the resort announced that they are permanently closing the backcountry gate from the peak of the 9990 chairlift. PCMR COO Mike Goar announced the news to KPCW on Friday. This is following two tragic incidents last winter where two skiers were killed in separate incidents after going into the backcountry through the 9990 gate, and were engulfed by an avalanche. The Peak 5 Chairlift gate over on the Canyons side will remain open to the public. This gate requires more hiking and planning to access the terrain. Here is what Mike Goar on why the Peak 5 gate will remain open:

“The backcountry skiers that I talked to – that’s not an obstacle for them. And, you know, I think it’s a safe assumption that’s largely the users that would access via Peak 5. They’re going to have the equipment, they’re going to be more informed and have some of the skills for backcountry travel, and I think that’s going to make a big difference. It certainly doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have accidents happen in the backcountry but, it certainly will change the demographic and just the volume of people accessing that terrain.”

A point of contention from the locals was there apparently was a handshake agreement between the prior owner of The Canyons(American Skiing Company) and backcountry skiers to keep the gate open. Mike Goar denied these reports and claimed that such a handshake agreement never existed. Former ski patroller Jake Hutchinson disagreed with this assessment:

“I was disappointed to hear Mike say he wasn’t aware of the agreement.  I do know that Blaise Carrig did sign that agreement and I was part of those negotiations with Save Our Canyons and CARG and some other interested parties. I don’t believe the Forest Service was ever part of that agreement, but it was with Save Our Canyons and CARG [Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth]. [Former Park City Mayor] Dana Williams was part of that as well.”

Jake Hutchinson added that although the Peak 5 gate takes more hiking, the terrain around it was as dangerous if not more than the 9990 backcountry terrain. Also, many individuals still ducked the ropes over at the 9990 gate even after its closure last season:

“It drops you down to the 9990 lift but it’s rather than, you know, the big dramatic bowls like Dutch Draw, it’s very steep and very rocky. In my tenure there, I believe we did two backcountry rescues in that area. Both involving partial burials and some pretty serious fractures, lower leg injuries, and stuff like that. So, it’s not, you know, it’s just exchanging one problem for a different problem that may be less obvious to people. I’ll be interested to see if it changes anything or not.

People’s behavior last year after the gate was closed showed that it wasn’t really effective. People are just ducking ropes everywhere, putting in skin tracks and group packs, wherever they felt like it and chose just not enough of them there to police those rope rides and as you keep chose got into the business to be, you know, rope cops, so to speak.”

Last winter, a petition was started by backcountry skier Roy Crandall to keep the gate open. Despite getting over 1800 signatures and reached out to multiple Vail Resort officials, like CEO Rob Katz, they were completely ignored. I can see why some locals are mad here. This gate gave direct access to the backcountry and featured some of the best terrain in Park City. But the reason why the gate was so beloved was also why it was so dangerous. Tensions with locals are always evident due to Vail Resort’s corporate mentality. But having a gate that’s so easy to get to and requires practically no hiking is a lawsuit waiting to happen for Vail Resorts, which is something they try to avoid.

The video below from the Utah Avalance Center describes the Square Top incident that closed the gate for good this past season.

Image Credits: Park Record

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