Olympic Valley, CA Jan 25 2017
A ski patrol member was killed Tuesday morning during avalanche control activities at Squaw Valley.
The Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows resort said the fatal incident happened at 8:35 a.m. The ski patroller who died was identified as Joe Zuiches, 42, of Olympic Valley.
Officials at a Tuesday news conference said the accident was likely caused by the detonation of a hand device used to trigger a controlled avalanche.
The resort manager Andrew Worth said it was unclear the resort would reopen and said employees were grieving over Zuiches’ death.
“The team at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is deeply saddened by this tragic event and would like to express our deepest sympathies to the family and friends affected,” a news release from the ski resort stated.
Zuiches was a member of the Squaw Valley professional ski patrol since 2012, according to the news release. His death occurred at the top of Gold Coast Ridge at Squaw Valley.
The North Tahoe Fire Department and Placer County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene. An investigation into exactly how Zuiches was killed is under way and includes the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, FBI, Cal OSHA and the ATF.
Liesl Kenney, spokeswoman for the company that owns Squaw and Alpine, told The Bee a year ago that ski patrols at the resorts analyze snow and other weather data before performing control efforts, including the use of artillery to break up potential avalanche formations. She said ski patrols are highly trained and participate in industry committees to develop best practices.
Both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have had casualties in recent years in the battle against avalanches. Andrew Entin, 41, died at Squaw Valley in 2009 when he and a fellow ski patrol member skied across avalanche-prone terrain to break it up because an explosive had failed to detonate, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said at the time.
In 2009, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows were not owned by the same company.
Three years later, Bill Foster, 53, was one of three ski patrollers setting off charges at Alpine Meadows “in new locations higher up the mountain than normal due to a heavier snow accumulation,” according to an investigative summary by Cal/OSHA. Foster was dug out of the snow only minutes after the avalanche but had suffered numerous injuries and died at a hospital hours later. Cal/OSHA fined Alpine Meadows about $20,000 for violations related to his death.
The Sierra Avalanche Center rated Tuesday as moderate for avalanches near the tree line and above the tree line.
Squaw Valley will be closed Tuesday. Alpine Meadows will be open.
A gofundme account has been set up to defray funeral costs.