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What you can learn from a death on Deer Valley’s Holy Roller mountain biking trail

First Published      Last Updated Jul 11 2017 06:36 pm

Mountain biking » Layton man’s fatal crash at Deer Valley last year serves as a warning on the dangers of popular “flow trails.”

Richard Schmutz had taken up mountain biking only a couple of months before he went riding at Deer Valley Resort for the first time.

"He went up there just wanting to have a good time," said his wife, Nikki Anne Schmutz. "He bought a brand-new helmet, he had all the gear, and he said he was just going to go on the easiest trails."

Schmutz — a 41-year-old electrician from Layton, father of four and Boy Scout leader — took a selfie while riding on a chairlift that day, Sept. 3, 2016. About a half-hour later, he died from injuries he suffered in a crash on the Holy Roller trail.

"I don't think there's anything that can explain the feeling you get when you just saw someone a few hours ago and then you get that call," said Nikki. "It's a lot of shock."

Biking trend • Deer Valley's website describes the Holy Roller, which opened last summer, as a 3-mile trail that "flows from the top of Bald Mountain to Silver Lake Village, providing riders an easy and fun option to descend the upper mountain."

The resort classifies the trail as Easier. The other classifications are Moderate, Difficult and Experts Only.

The website warns: "Be aware that even though a trail may be marked Easier, all trails still require basic mountain bike handling skills, mountain travel skills and physical fitness." And Deer Valley's chairlift customers are required to sign a waiver acknowledging that they are aware of the risks and the resort is not responsible for injuries.

Designed by the Whistler, British Columbia-based company Gravity Logic, the Holy Roller is part of a trend in mountain biking, a "flow trail."

According to the Colorado-based International Mountain Bicycling Association's website, flow trails "take mountain bikers on a terrain-induced roller coaster experience, with little pedaling and braking necessary. This style of trail typically contains features like banked turns, rolling terrain, various types of jumps, and consistent and predictable surfaces. Conspicuously absent are abrupt corners or unforeseen obstacles."

As Schmutz rode downhill, the trail passed through a relatively steep, grassy area and into a stand of trees. There, he encountered a couple of rises in the path, where he crashed, suffering massive facial and head injuries. Nobody is known to have witnessed the accident.

Moments later, rider John Thomson came upon the scene. Two other riders — a father and son — had arrived before him.

Schmutz was lying unconscious on the ground, his helmet cracked and pushed back on his head.

"We immediately knew he was fighting for his life," said Thomson, a 50-year-old Salt Lake City resident.

The father and son said Schmutz had passed them while they took a break just a minute or two before they found him on the ground. He had not been riding at excessive speed, they told Thomson.

Thomson surmises that Schmutz picked up velocity through the grassy area before coming upon the double rises.

"My guess is, he got a little bit out of control, grabbed his front brake and went over the handlebars," Thomson said.

Called by the onlookers, Deer Valley bike patrol members arrived 5 or 6 minutes later, Thomson said. Park City Fire District personnel also responded to the call, but they were unable to revive Schmutz. He died at the scene.

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