Squaw Valley fined for violations related to ski patroller’s death

Placer official details investigation into death of ski patrol member at Squaw Valley

Joe Zuiches, 42, was killed after an explosive device used for avalanche control detonated at the resort.
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Joe Zuiches, 42, was killed after an explosive device used for avalanche control detonated at the resort.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited and fined Squaw Valley Ski Holdings for workplace safety code violations eight months after the death of ski patroller Joe Zuiches, according to documents obtained by The Bee.

Zuiches, 42, died while working with three other employees to detonate small explosives to create controlled avalanches.

The team was using hang cords when Zuiches told his partner to join the other employees while he stayed behind to set off another blast. The employees found him dead when they returned to Zuiches’ location after they heard blasts and were unable to reach him through radio.

Investigators found that the ski resort “failed to correct an identified unsafe working condition” by not having a procedure in case of hang-cord entanglement during explosive operations. The second violation was not ensuring that all workers were aware of each others’ physical locations during the operations.

The company was fined $20,250 for the violations.

“We are respectful of the guidelines put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and have immediately appealed this citation,” said Sam Kieckhefer, public relations coordinator for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. “Because of that, we have no comment due to the ongoing nature of the legal process.”

Zuiches was the second Squaw Valley ski patroller to die during avalanche control in seven years.

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.

Regulators cited Squaw Valley for a “serious” violation but did not fine the resort, according to a federal occupational safety database.

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