Lawsuit Filed Against Park City, UT, Cat-Skiing Operator by Widow of Skier Killed in Avalanche

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Photo of the avalanche (UAC staff)

Park City Powder Cats, a renowned guided skiing tour operator in Utah, is facing a lawsuit over the death of a skier in an avalanche in Weber Canyon, 45 minutes from Salt Lake City in the Uinta Mountains earlier this year.

The wife of Ryan Barr, a 46-year-old San Diego native who died in the avalanche on March 9, 2023, has filed a lawsuit against the tour guide company, alleging negligence. The avalanche, as documented by the Utah Avalanche Center, was four feet deep, 400 feet wide, and ran over 1,000 feet vertically.

“This avalanche was a hard slab avalanche that failed 2-6’ deep on a layer of rounding facets below a crust. Based on observations of layers in the crown face, it is suspected that this weak layer formed in the first few days of February (Feb. 1st-4th). Until this avalanche, there had been no notable avalanches failing on weak layers from early February. This slide broke 400’ wide, and ran nearly 1400’ vertical. This avalanche produced debris that averaged two-meters deep, and nearly three meters at its deepest. The toe of the avalanche debris ended at 8950’, and had a runout angle of 20 degrees at the toe. This avalanche is classified as HS-AS-R3-D3.”

Utah Avalanche Center official report

The lawsuit, filed in July, states that Barr and other guests on the tour were led by the company into a risky area for a “party run” – a final run in an untouched area. It further alleges that the company disregarded avalanche conditions, snow conditions, slope steepness, and the lack of beta testing in selecting the route. Moreover, Barr was reportedly not provided with a shovel or avalanche training but only an avalanche beacon.

“They detected a signal from the other buried skier and began probing at a location where a transceiver read 2 meters. On their second probe, they got a positive strike and began digging with assistance from Guide 1. They initially uncovered the skier’s ski boot and realized that the skier was upside-down with their head buried close to 2 meters deep. When the skier’s head was uncovered, they were not breathing and had no pulse. Ventilations and other medical care were provided while the remaing snow was removed around the skier. Once the skier was fully extricated from the avalanche debris, guides continued to administer medical care with support from an additional air ambulance crew. The skier was pronounced dead 1 hour and 20 minutes after the avalanche.”

Utah Avalanche Center official report

According to the complaint, the guides chose to have the group traverse across a head wall under a cornice out to a ridge with a narrow gully at the bottom, despite the dangerous conditions. This decision, combined with record snowfall, ultimately triggered the deadly avalanche that resulted in Barr being buried under feet of snow, leading to his suffocation.

“Guide 1 skied the slope in one pitch and stopped above a group of trees, outside the avalanche path. Skiers 1 and 2 descended one at a time to guide 1. Skier 3 began skiing next but fell part way down the slope. Skier 3 was still on the slope as Skier 4 began descending. At approximately 15:21, the avalanche released while Skiers 3 and 4 were both on the slope. Both skiers 3 and 4 were caught and carried downhill in the avalanche and fully buried.”

Utah Avalanche Center official report

The lawsuit also alleges that Barr’s companions were prohibited from assisting in the search for his body when he was initially buried. Additionally, Caroline Barr, Ryan’s wife, claims that Park City Powder Cats did not inform her about her husband’s death until three days after the incident.

Caroline Barr is seeking financial damages for negligence, and her legal representation includes Salt Lake City-based firms Adams Davis and Gross & Rooney.

Park City Powder Cats, which has been in operation for 29 years, expressed deep sorrow over the tragedy in a statement, noting this is the first tragedy of this magnitude they’ve experienced in their history. The company did not comment on the lawsuit and has not yet announced who will represent them in court.

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