Snow Safety is a term used to describe the Mountain Patrol's program of snow stability evaluations and avalanche hazard forecasting and reduction. Also included in the Snow Safety Program are weather forecasting, avalanche and mountain rescue, patroller training, area openings and closures, and enforcement of Park City Municipal Code 8-2-9. The ultimate goal of the PCMR Snow Safety Program is to ensure the safety of our skiing/riding guests through avalanche hazard reduction within the area boundaries.
The need for area closures and avalanche hazard reduction is determined by the Snow Safety Department on a daily basis. Most often, the hazard is evaluated using the 3 components of the avalanche triangle:
Terrain: Is the terrain capable of producing an avalanche?
Weather: Has the weather increased or decreased the hazard?
Snowpack: Are there weak layers in the snow?
These evaluations are done using direct observations, terrain analysis through mapping, and snow pit analysis. We also utilize a network of remote weather stations throughout the resort and the Wasatch Range as well as forecasts and reports from the National Weather Service, The Utah Avalanche Forecast Center, and neighboring resorts.
Once the forecasting and evaluation of a given slope has been completed, the process of Snow Safety work or avalanche hazard reduction can proceed by testing the slope with ski cuts and/or explosives. These tests can be very effective in releasing new snow and causing failures in surface and sub-surface layers, which often leads to avalanches. Even if no avalanche occurs, these tests are effective in "settling out" weak layers and breaking up surface layers, which then can improve the bonding of new snow.
It is important to remember that this process results in avalanche hazard reduction, not elimination. There may still be there risk of a "post control release," an avalanche that occurs after snow safety work is completed. If even after our best efforts we still are not confident in an area, we may choose to keep it closed for more work or until conditions improve.
Our skiing/riding guests often wonder why some areas are open sooner than others during or after a storm. We generally prioritize areas from the lower mountain to the upper mountain. This allows guests at least access terrain and facilities serviced by our high-speed chairs as soon as possible. After a typical storm cycle, our PCMR Snow Safety routes are conducted in the following areas and in the following order:
Ski Team Ridge area including the Eagle Race Arena and Gotcha Cut Off.
Areas served by Bonanza, Thaynes, and Pioneer chairlifts including Blueslip Bowl
Areas served by the McConkey's Chairlift
The Jupiter Chairlift area including Main Bowl, Scotts Bowl, and the West Face.
Jupiter Peak area which includes the East Face, Puma Bowl, Pioneer Ridge, and Pinion Ridge
Pinecone Ridge. This area is divided into Upper and Lower Pinecone with an access gate at Two Goons. Often we only open the upper area and leave Lower Pinecone closed due to the unique nature of the terrain.
A special note regarding the Upper Mountain areas (Jupiter, The East Face, and Pinecone): Due to the nature of the terrain and relatively light skier/rider traffic compared to the rest of the resort, these areas often require extensive ski and explosive testing before we consider them safe to open. This in turn requires much more time and personnel than other areas of the Mountain. In addition, winds and precipitation amounts may vary greatly from area to area therefore openings are often weather dependent. Increased snowfall amounts and or higher winds combined with weak snowpack conditions may require more time and attention to provide safe and enjoyable conditions for our guests. Specific to the Pinecone area, opening is also dependant on the Grooming Department to maintain the access road so we are able to provide a quick response to situations that may arise.
Ultimately our procedures are targeted to allow a given slope to be open to our guests. An open slope benefits from one of the best methods of reducing avalanche hazard, skier/rider compaction. In other words, it is to the resorts benefit to get an area open as soon as we feel we can do so safely.
Additional Snow Safety Information Park City Mountain Resort is equipped with The RECCO® Rescue System which is an avalanche rescue system utilized worldwide to rapidly locate buried victims. RECCO reflectors are sewn into jackets and pants from many outdoor clothing manufacturers. RECCO can greatly increase the chance of being found in avalanche debris, but like any rescue gear such as an avalanche transceiver or probe, it is not a substitute for common sense.
The PCMR Mountain Patrol has developed an extensive avalanche search dog program which includes training and testing of search dogs and their designated patrol handlers (trainers). The training and testing protocols have been developed in cooperation with Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR) and neighboring resort patrols. WBR is a non-profit backcountry rescue organization which operates under the direction of the Salt Lake County Sheriff Search and Rescue program. For more information on WBR, check out http://www.wasatchbackcountryrescue.org
Our dogs are on the mountain daily so don't be surprised if you see one on a snowmobile, on a chairlift or running along on the slopes
Area Closures and Park City Municipal Code, Title 8, Chapter 2, Section 9 Despite what may be some counter-culture popular belief that we close things to "save the skiing for ourselves," we actually close things to keep our resort guests safe. Especially early season, a given run may be closed due to natural hazards (stumps, rocks, ditches, etc.), exposed snowmaking hydrants and hoses, grooming operations, and/or avalanche hazard. The main point is you, the skiing/riding guest, don't know why something is closed and by entering the area may be exposing yourself to any number of potentially life or limb threatening hazards.
Several areas of our mountain close daily to facilitate our evening sweeps of the Resort. These closures start with the Upper Mountain access points every afternoon at 3:15 and progress to the Thaynes Canyon and Town Run areas after 4:00 pm. Occasionally weather or other situations may cause us to close some areas earlier. It is important for the skiing/riding guest to know that once a run is closed and swept, no more patrollers will be in that area. In addition, snowmaking or grooming operations will begin shortly after sweeps go through. Guests who venture past our nightly closures may come across winch cables, exposed snowmaking equipments, or just find themselves at the bottom of a lift that is no longer running with no way out. Not to mention the fact that again, if a guest is injured in a closed area, there most likely will be no more patrollers in the area to offer aid and assistance.
Many of our guests may not know the Mountain Patrol has the backing of the Park City Police Department when it comes to enforcing our closures. Park City Municipal Code, Title 8, Chapter 2, Section 9 is an ordinance related to regulation of skiing/boarding in closed areas. The purpose of the Ordinance is to safeguard the safety of the inhabitants and visitors of Park City, and that the skiing areas within the City be controlled and regulated to accomplish this goal.
Under Code 8-2-9, "It shall be unlawful for any skier or snowboarder to negligently or intentionally go onto or upon any closed area." It is the policy of the PCMR Mountain Patrol to close any areas that we deem to be unsafe. Therefore, it is a violation of the Municipal Code and a Class B misdemeanor to enter any area at Park City Mountain Resort that is closed due to avalanche danger or closed for any other reason. The Mountain Patrol indicates these closures with signs such as Closed Avalanche, Closed, Closed Area Boundary, or other similar signage. Rope lines may also be used, but are not required to indicate a closed area.
There are areas on the mountain, most often in the steeper avalanche-prone terrain, where permanent rope lines exist and access gates are provided. These areas are typically signed Avalanche Control Area Enter Through Gates Only. As the sign suggests, entry into these areas is only allowed through the gates when the gates are open and signage has been changed to indicate open. It is not acceptable to enter such areas by ducking the ropes adjoining the gates or anywhere along the control area. Again, such areas are to be entered only through open gates. Note that when avalanche terrain is open there still remains risks inherent to such terrain and you need to follow safe skiing practices.
Park City Mountain Resort sits entirely on private property. There are no public lands accessible from the resort and therefore our boundaries are CLOSED and indicated as such. Any guests who travel beyond PCMR boundaries are trespassing on private lands and violating Park City Municipal Code.
Closures really are that simple; if it's closed it's closed. There is often plenty of the Mountain open to be enjoyed and we're always working to get the closed areas open if possible. Please respect our closures, enjoy our resort as our guests, and stay safe.
Time to dig out the flip-flops, pull the cover off the grill and enjoy those lazy summer days. But if you think we're sitting back and putting our feet up during the dog days, think again. We open for summer on Friday, May 24 (just in time for Memorial Day Weekend) and we've got a couple new summer wrinkles in addition to our classic adventures.