Squaw Valley Ski Patroller Dies During Avalanche Control Work

SQUAW VALLEY (CBS SF) – A 42-year-old ski patrol member was killed during an avalanche control operation early Tuesday at the Squaw Valley ski resort, authorities said.

The resort said Joe Zuiches was killed in a fatal incident at 8:35 a.m. in an accident involving explosives used to intentionally trigger an avalanche at the top of Gold Coast Ridge at Squaw, officials said.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office and the North Tahoe Fire Department are investigating the accident and official cause of death. But the resort said in a statement Tuesday afternoon the “cause is believed to be the detonation of an explosive charge.”

Winter storms over the last week have dumped more than six feet of new snow at the resort, forcing the ski patrol to run daily operations to eliminate the danger of an avalanche.

In a statement the resort said: “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.”

The resort says Zuiches left behind a wife and infant son. Family and friends have established the Joe Zuiches Memorial Fund through Go Fund Me to help cover funeral expenses.

It was the second ski patrol member to die during an avalanche control operation at Squaw Valley since 2009 when ski patrol member Andrew Entin was killed.

The region has been buried under as much as 25 feet or more of snow so far this year.

On Sunday, the Sierra Avalanche Center issued its highest level warning for the region saying “danger exists at all elevations and large, deep, destructive human triggered avalanches are very likely today.”

The center has since lowered the threat level to moderate.

The Placer County Office Emergency Services asked residents of Alpine Meadows over the weekend to voluntarily evacuate as several feet of new snow fell and winds reaching hurricane force levels on the Sierra Ridge caused drifting and instability on the slopes.

Also on Sunday a massive wall of snow slammed into a Sierra highway, burying two cars but fortunately the occupants of the vehicles were able to escape unharmed.

The California Highway Patrol said the slide — measuring 200 feet across and 12 feet high — crashed down on Highway 89 between Alpine Meadows and Tahoe City.

Meanwhile, heavy snow caused a roof to collapse Monday at a liquor store and forced the evacuation of neighboring businesses, including a South Lake Tahoe pet hospital.

South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Jeff Meston says the roof collapsed and broke a sprinkler pipe at a liquor store on Harrison Avenue at about 2:45 a.m. Monday.

No one was hurt. But Meston told the Lake Tahoe News there was a “ton of water on the street” when crews arrived. He says local utility workers had to dig through more than a foot of snow to find the main shut-off valve.

Animals at the nearby Sierra Veterinary Hospital have been evacuated while officials inspect the integrity of the neighboring businesses.

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