Back on March 9th, Ryan Barr and ten other guests were on a Park City Powder Cats tour of the Uintas.
On their final lap of the day, which was referred to as the “party run,” they were traversing a steep headwall under a cornice to reach an untracked route. While skiing down, Ryan fell. The next skier, Mike McFarland, began his descent, which is when the slide occurred.
A hard slab avalanche with a width of 400 feet, a vertical length of 1,250 feet, and a depth of 4-9 feet resulted in Ryan and Mike being buried. While Mike was ultimately rescued and survived the avalanche, Ryan was stuck with his face sticking downwards six feet under the snow. When they finally unburied him, he was pronounced dead.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Caroline Barr, who is the widow of Ryan Barr, is suing Park City Powder Cats, alleging that the cat-skiing company made numerous mistakes during the expedition.
The first mistake was rather than just hiking to the M&M Bowl, the guides decided to have skiers go along a cornice under a headwall in order to ski a 37-degree route, which concluded with a narrow gully. In simpler terms, they were having them go on avalanche terrain in a historic snow year. On the day of the incident, the avalanche risk in the Uintas was listed as low to moderate but moved to considerable the next day due to high winds.
The lawsuit also alleges that the guides allowed Mike to enter the slide path, which is against the Utah Avalanche Center’s recommendation of going single file. In addition, the guests only had beacons with them, and shockingly didn’t have a shovel or radio. This meant that they couldn’t do much to help with the rescue operation. On their website, Park City Powder Cats that the guests are only provided with beacons, and don’t provide them with over things that people should bring into the backcountry. Their website asks guests to bring a probe and shovel, but it lists these items as optional.
The jointly filed lawsuit by the Adams Davis and Gross & Rooney law firms in the 3rd District Court states the following:
“The guides selected the route without regard to avalanche conditions, snow conditions, the steepness of the slope, the lack of beta testing, and the terrain trap (gully) at the bottom. Gullies are a dangerous terrain trap that are to be avoided in the backcountry given the elevated risk of death due to burial.”
Back in April, Park City Powder Cats released the following statement:
“It is impossible to put into words the sorrow we feel and the grief that is shared by the entirety of our Powder Cat family… In our 29 years of operation, this is the first tragedy we have experienced of this magnitude. We consider every one of our guests’ [sic] to be family and will continue to put our primary focus on the safety & well-being of our guests and staff.”