Avalanche Fences Above Park City Gated Community Spark Controversy

Controversy is brewing on the Park City ridgeline. Park City Mountain is planning to construct more than 200 avalanches fences above the Daybreak chairlift on the Canyons side of the resort. The structure is an effort to protect an access road leading to two homes in the Colony and the on-mountain restaurant Cloud Dine. The fences were approved in June 2020 under a low-impact permit from Summit County, which meant a building permit could be issued in March 2021 without any public input. Some county residents are rankled at what they consider a closed-door decision-making process that they claim will permanently and unnecessarily alter the area’s natural landscape.

The Colony, a gated community on the slopes of Park City Mountain, is home to some of the most expensive real estate in Park City. As development in the community has risen higher up the mountainside, it has gotten closer to natural avalanche paths outside of the boundary of the ski resort. In this case, the road the avalanche fencing intends to protect is essentially a shared driveway for two homes within The Colony. Current avalanche mitigation work throughout the winter season produces regular small avalanches, preventing a larger slide that would imperil the road. The caveat is the roadway must be closed when mitigation work is ongoing. The fences would eliminate the need for explosive avalanche control, meaning the road is always open.

Detractors insist the plan is unnecessarily intrusive and an example of entitlement for wealthy residents at the cost of the community. 215 avalanche fences ranging between three and four meters in height would be bolted to the ground near the top of the slide paths where avalanches initiate. The fences cause turbulence in airflow resulting in snowdrifts that aren’t prone to avalanches. Avalanche fencing is common in Europe above alpine towns in the Alps and along essential roadways threatened by avalanche risk. Far less common is protecting a roadway for two private homes and a resort restaurant with extensive fencing infrastructure.

The maze of fencing will likely be visible year-round from Snyderville Basin, would be potentially hazardous to wildlife in the area, and would spoil a natural area enjoyed by backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Further, avalanche professionals have expressed doubts about the merits of the plan. A ski patroller who works in snow safety at Park City Mountain, who provided insight on condition of anonymity, suggested avalanches are unlikely to impact the future road. “Once every decade or so the road might get hit. Fences are an absurd way to protect what’s essentially a driveway. Limiting access for a handful of people on rare occasions when control work is going on is far more reasonable than covering the mountains in fencing,” the patroller said.

Public concern has swelled as details about the fence plan spread, but little recourse is available. Low impact permits can be appealed within 10 days of being issued, but in this case, it’s been nearly a year. Further, a previous agreement between the landowners and Vail Resorts is already in place, and Vail has valid permits. There’s no formal code violation or anything else that would require Vail Resorts to reconsider unless the concerns of the community compel them to do so.

For those who wish to register opposition to the plan, Save Our Canyons has started a petition asking Summit County to reconsider the low-impact permit. Click here to view the petition.  

Read more community coverage here.

Tony Gill
Tony Gillhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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