Deer Valley Resort sees strange string of bike crashes during busy Saturday

Deer Valley opened in late June for a summer of lift served mountain biking. Three lifts are operating: Sterling Express, Silver Lake Express and Homestake Express.
Park Record file photo by David Jackson

Deer Valley Resort saw one of its busiest days of the summer season last week, and despite a strange string of accidents in the afternoon, it was otherwise a quiet day on the mountain.

The Park City Fire District and the resort’s bike patrol responded to three separate mountain bike crashes last Saturday, which all occurred within a few hours of each other around lunchtime.

A medical helicopter was initially called for and then canceled for the first individual who crashed riding the Tsunami Trail, according to Battalion Chief Sean Briley. Deer Valley Bike Patrol arrived first followed by a quick ground response from paramedics with Park City Fire.

Crews loaded the rider into an ambulance and transported him to a nearby hospital. Then, another call came in about 90 minutes later. As emergency medical services were responding, they received another report of a mountain biking crash. The accidents occurred on the Tidal Wave Trail as well as the Tsunami.

The second individual’s injuries required them to be transported to a nearby hospital via a University of Utah medical helicopter. Patients are ranked as trauma 1, the most serious, if they have to be flown.

The third person also had significant injuries. Briley estimated the third and first riders were around a trauma 2 level; possibly trauma 1.

All riders were equipped with a helmet and gear such as padding.

There were various hard closures around the trail as crews worked to provide care, but most mountain bikers were not impacted.

Steve Graff, who oversees the resort’s bike and ski patrols as the director of mountain operations at Deer Valley, said mountain biking has been incredibly popular and participation only continues to increase.

Three chairlifts give bikers access to nearly 60 miles of trails serving Bald Mountain and Bald Eagle Mountain. Graff said people who purchase a lift pass sign a waiver. A helmet is needed, but bikers are not otherwise required to wear protection — though Deer Valley encourages it. The resort also recommends people ride suspension bikes and lower their seats.

“That can vary a bit based on what types of trails they’re riding and what level of risk they’re assuming,” he said. There’s signage around the trails offering guidance to riders.

Graff also suggests following the “pre-ride, re-ride, free ride” mantra.

Mountain bikers shouldn’t start at full speed when exploring a trail for the first time, he explained. This allows people to find the obstacles and where there are jumps or turns on the trail. After one run, they’re encouraged to go again at a faster speed.

“Then ride it at that speed that you’re comfortable with,” Graff said. “But we don’t want people going into these things blind.”

Parkites Todd Sherly and Jacob Brunt are among the first to head down Holly Roller Trail at the top of Bald Mountain in late June for the first day of the Deer Valley Resort summer mountain bike season. The trail crew had to cut through 10 feet of snow to make it accessible in time for opening.
Park Record file photo by David Jackson

Briley offered similar advice. While Deer Valley boasts an amazing network of mountain biking, he said people can often push the boundaries of what is safe. The Battalion Chief compared a mountain bike crash to a car accident.

“These riders are doing this to get this thrill, and they want to ride this fine line. That’s their decision. But when things do go off the rails … the consequences are huge. People can be severely injured. Sometimes permanently,” he said. “There are no airbags. There are no seat belts. Your mercy is a tree or a rock. And when they’re properly equipped, [because of] that kinetic energy, sometimes it still doesn’t matter the padding or the helmet.”

Graff recognized mountain biking as a risky sport. Unlike skiing, it can be difficult to judge the grade of a route. Skiers typically know what they’re getting into on a green run, but bikers could see more variations in level on a trail that’s 3 to 5 miles long.

“There could be a little piece of some black or some blue,” Graff said. “They’re very hard to judge, we do our best.”

Despite that, skiing at the resort remains more dangerous. He said there have been fewer serious injuries at Deer Valley in the summer than in winter. However, there are often fewer visitors when the ski season is over.

Those coming to mountain bike at Deer Valley should come prepared with the proper equipment and a willingness to want to build on their skills. Graff said riders should also follow the progression of trails listed on the map, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask staff for advice or recommendations.

The season runs daily through Sept. 4. It will then run Friday through Sunday, conditions permitting, until Sept. 24.

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