Gate Ninety-Nine 90, a popular access point for sidecountry skiing at Utah’s Park City Resort, has been permanently closed. Last winter, two skiers were killed there in two separate incidents, and, after much deliberation, the resort decided that was quite enough, and closed the easy and obvious entry point, right off the Ninety-Nine 90 lift.
That lift tempted skiers with uncrowded sidecountry terrain, visible from the lift, which, the resort felt, was attracting some skiers not skilled or prepared enough to meet the challenge of terrain that has claimed the lives of even experienced backcountry riders.
“Coming out of the terribly unfortunate fatalities of last winter, we again engaged in these conversations, and just felt that Ninety-Nine 90 provided access that was so simple for people to utilize from the Ninety-Nine 90 lift,” said Park City Resort Chief Operating Officer Mike Goar. “Many of them were ill-equipped, and it was something that we needed to take a different tact on.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” Goar said. “Again, we appreciate all of those who have shared their thoughts on this issue. I’ve personally spoken with a number of individuals across our community regarding this and understand that accessing the backcountry is important to many. That said, I can no longer reconcile the number of tragedies and the impact to the community and our employees with the desire to provide convenient, lift-served backcountry access from the Ninety-Nine 90 exit.”
There is access to the same terrain from the backcountry gate at Peak 5, but to reach the area served by the Ninety-Nine 90 gate requires hiking and more extensive preparation. Officials think that alone will be enough to keep less experienced skiers from getting in over the heads.
Of course there are plenty of locals who disagree with the decision and argue that access to public lands that surround the resort, should not be blocked. To that end, a petition to keep backcountry gates open at Park City Resort is circulating, with thousands of signatures already collected. The petition, and its supporters, argues that community input is necessary before the drastic steps of permanently closing backcountry access is taken.
From the petition:
“The unresolved and ongoing closure of the backcountry gates on the Canyons side of the Park City Resort is unprecedented, unacceptable, and impedes our right to access our shared public lands. Permanent closure of the Canyons backcountry access would be the end of an era and a disservice to the next generation of backcountry enthusiasts and public land stewards.
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 February 2nd 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.”