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California ski resort reopens as workers clear debris from deadly avalanche

California Avalanche
Posted at 11:49 AM, Jan 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-11 13:49:30-05

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — A California ski resort near Lake Tahoe reopened Thursday, a day after an avalanche roared down a steep section of the mountain, killing a 66-year-old skier in the first U.S. avalanche death of the winter.

Palisades Tahoe's iconic KT-22 lift, which serves the area where the snowslide hit, was to remain closed while crews worked to clear a road to enable snowcats and snowmobiles to enter the section of mostly expert runs.

Other lifts were to open later on what would be a “rigorous snow safety day," the resort said in a statement. Lift openings at adjoining Alpine Meadows also were expected to be delayed to allow staff to assess all terrain.

A storm had blanketed the area Wednesday when the avalanche hit around 9:30 a.m., sweeping up four people and killing one. The debris field spanned about 150 feet (46 meters) wide, 450 feet (137 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) deep, the sheriff’s office said.

Palisades, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is on the western side of Lake Tahoe, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Reno, Nevada.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office identified the person killed as Kenneth Kidd, 66, a resident of nearby Truckee and Point Reyes. One person suffered a lower leg injury and two others were treated for unspecified injuries and released, officials said.

The death was the first U.S. avalanche fatality of the season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The Sierra Avalanche Center's forecast for the central Sierra backcountry predicted continuing dangerous avalanche conditions Thursday.

“New snow and high winds have loaded existing weak layers in our snowpack,” the forecast said.

The KT-22 lift opened for the first time this season just 30 minutes before the avalanche. The resort’s website said it received 1-3 inches (2.5-7.6 centimeters) of snow on Tuesday, and Wednesday was to begin with snow showers followed by heavy snow with strong gusts. The resort said 14 inches (35.5 centimeters) fell Wednesday.

On Monday, the website had noted its plans to open KT-22 and another lift on Wednesday: “A lot of work goes into prepping these two lifts, even with the help of more than two feet (62 centimeters) of recent snowfall up top,” the post said. It characterized the existing snow as light in density.

Michael Gross, vice president of mountain operations, said before deeming an area safe to open, the team evaluates the conditions relying on their expertise and historical data.

“You know we’ve got decades worth of weather data that we’re always resourcing or referencing, so looking at current forecasts, looking at all different models, looking at wind speed, snow density, wind direction," Gross told reporters Wednesday. "There’s a variety of things that go into play and the people that are doing the work are truly experts in their field. Most of them have been working at it 10 to 20 years, some of them upwards of 50 years, just doing forecasting.”

A 2020 avalanche at Alpine Meadows killed one skier and seriously injured another a day after a major storm. Another avalanche at the resort in March 1982 killed seven people, including several employees.

Denver 7+ Colorado News Latest Headlines | January 11, 11am