Missing Rocklin snowboarder found dead at Squaw Valley, 2 people injured in avalanche

Watch overturned snowplow being removed from Highway 50

A Caltrans snowplow that overturned early Friday is being removed Friday afternoon on Highway 50 after it overturned earlier in the day near North Upper Truckee Road.
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A Caltrans snowplow that overturned early Friday is being removed Friday afternoon on Highway 50 after it overturned earlier in the day near North Upper Truckee Road.

A winter storm that brought welcome snow to Sierra ski areas also wreaked havoc, as a Rocklin snowboarder was found dead Friday morning at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, and two people were injured in an avalanche at the resort Friday afternoon.

A Caltrans snowplow also overturned on Highway 50, closing the highway in both directions for a period Friday afternoon.

Wenyu Zhang, 42, a Rocklin snowboarder reported missing Thursday night, was found dead Friday morning in the Squaw Creek area of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Liesl Hepburn, spokeswoman for the resort, said in an email.

He was found after a search was narrowed through the use of a tracker program used by the resort.

Zhang, who was described as an advanced snowboarder, was last seen by friends at the resort about 12:45 p.m. Thursday as he headed out to go snowboarding, said Dena Erwin, Placer County sheriff's spokeswoman. When he failed to return, his friends reported him missing about 9 p.m.

The Sheriff's Office Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue immediately began a search, which was later suspended then resumed at first light Friday. Zhang was found at 10:17 a.m., in bounds at the resort, Erwin said.

Although he was found near a group of small trees, she said, his body showed no signs of trauma, and his cause of death has not been determined. Zhang was wearing a helmet when he was found.

The Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows mobile app is equipped with a GPS tracking function. Because Zhang was tracking his time on the slopes, rescuers were able to identify his location, Hepburn said.

Zhang also was found using a "Recco" device, which reads a chip or reflector that's attached to clothing, boots and helmets by manufacturers.

Erwin said family members were at the resort when Zhang was found.

About 1:40 p.m. Friday, five people were caught in an inbounds avalanche in the area of the Olympic Lady chairlift, according to a Squaw Valley news release. One person suffered a serious lower-body injury and was transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital. Another was transported to the Tahoe Truckee Medical Group at the base of Squaw Valley and subsequently released, the news release said. The other three people were uninjured.

The trigger for the avalanche is under investigation. Squaw Valley was closed for the remainder of the day due to the avalanche hazard, the news release said.

In El Dorado County, traffic was held on Highway 50, westbound at Meyers and eastbound at Echo Summit, early Friday afternoon to remove a Caltrans snowplow that overturned earlier near North Upper Truckee Road, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The snowplow operator was clearing the roadway near Meyers about 3:45 a.m. when he "experienced whiteout conditions and lost his sense of direction," said Liza Whitmore, Caltrans spokeswoman. "He crossed over the westbound lane and went down the embankment on the side. It was heavily snowing at the time."

The snowplow driver was able to walk away from the scene, but he suffered minor injuries and facial cuts and was transported to a local hospital, Whitmore said.

A winter storm warning remains in effect until 10 a.m. Saturday for ski resort areas in Placer County and until 10 p.m. Saturday for areas south of Lake Tahoe such as Kirkwood Mountain Resort, according to the National Weather Service.

As of Thursday afternoon, Boreal reported receiving 48 inches of snow in the preceding 48 hours, while Heavenly reported 31 inches during the same period and Kirkwood had 44 inches.

The Sierra Avalanche Center in Truckee issued an avalanche warning for Lake Tahoe backcountry effective until 7 a.m. Saturday.

Snow showers are forecast during the day and night Saturday, before clearing on Sunday. Highs in the low-to-upper 20s are expected in the Lake Tahoe area during the weekend, with overnight lows between 9 and 14 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

In downtown Sacramento, the storm had boosted the season's rainfall total to 10.07 inches as of 4 p.m. Friday, or 68 percent of normal, said Karl Swanberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The downtown area received 0.33 inches for the 24-hour period. Elsewhere in the region, Folsom recorded 0.47 inches; Fair Oaks, 0.56 inches; Antelope, 0.39 inches; Loomis, 0.41 inches; Lincoln, 0.34 inches; Auburn, 0.51 inches; and Elk Grove's Laguna area, 0.55 inches, Swanberg said.

Showers are expected to continue through Saturday, with a chance of scattered thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon, he said, and a high of 52 degrees.

Sunday's forecast is for mostly sunny skies and a high of 55 degrees.