A 45-year-old snowboarder died in the backcountry Sunday after he was buried in an avalanche, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.
Matt Tauszik, from Salt Lake City, was the executive chef for Marriott Salt Lake City University Park.
Tauszik left Canyons Village in Park City via a backcountry exit gate at the top of the 9990 lift to access Dutch Draw. He triggered the avalanche about noon as he headed down a northeast slope near the steep, rocky Conehead area of Dutch Draw, at about 9,600 feet elevation, the avalanche center reported.
Tauszik was riding alone and was not wearing an avalanche beacon, said Greg Gagne, forecaster with the avalanche center. Other skiers noticed his board in the avalanche and deduced that someone had been buried, Gagne said.
Sheriff Justin Martinez of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that Tauszik was dug out and lifesaving efforts were performed on him, but that he ultimately died.
Tauszik was in charge of culinary operations for the University Park Marriott’s Thistle & Thyme restaurant as well as banquets, catering and room service, leading a team of 12 employees.
“He was a talented and creative chef that lived and breathed food," said Jason Talcott, the hotel’s food and beverage director.
Tauszik was passionate about snowboarding and mountain biking, Talcott said, adding he was shocked and saddened by the tragedy. “He died pursuing one of his passions,” Talcott said. "In that, I find some solace.”
The Utah Avalanche Center said its forecasters, along with avalanche professionals from Park City and Canyons resorts, were investigating the scene of the avalanche Monday. It was about 3 feet deep and 100 feet wide, the center reported.
On the day of the accident, the Utah Avalanche Center said the danger of avalanches in the Salt Lake City area was “considerable.” It advised recreationists Sunday to avoid “steep northwest to easterly facing terrain at the mid and upper elevations,” where the danger is “most pronounced.”
The center described the Conehead as prone to avalanches. It was the site of a fatality in 2012 and another in 2005, when crews searched for days after multiple skiers were unaccounted for immediately after the chaos of a slide; however, only one person was believed to have died in that incident.
The number of fatalities in the area may have as much to do with its proximity to the resort as with the steep terrain, Gagne said.
“The unique thing about 9990 is it’s great terrain. It’s really fun skiing, and it’s really accessible from the lift,” he said. "I think people consider themselves as still being at the resort. They see a lot of tracks on it, and they treat it kind of like the resort.”
But other people’s tracks should offer no reassurance in the backcountry, even if they’re coming directly from a ski lift, Gagne warned.
“Tracks on a slope are no indication of stability,” he said. “Particularly with this kind of avalanche. Its weak layer of snow is 3 to 4 feet down. You probably could put 30 to 40 tracks on that slope, and they’d probably get away with it. Then one person hits it just the wrong way.”
The gate has signs warning of avalanche danger and advising use of rescue gear like beacons, probes and shovels.
But the boundary to the backcountry seems not to fully sink in with all skiers and boarders, especially in that treacherous, “unforgiving” spot, Gagne said.
"This language people use — they call it the ‘side country.’ Like there’s a middle ground. ‘It’s the side country, it’s adjacent to a resort.’ It softens it,” Gagne said. "It’s really black and white: When you’re in a resort, they do [avalanche] control work. Once you go out that gate, it’s backcountry.
“A number of even very expert people will say, ‘It’s adjacent to a resort,’ as if it shouldn’t be as dangerous. Whenever I hear people use that language, I say: ‘There’s no such thing as side country.’”
Kathy Stephenson contributed to this report.