Reno, Nev. (AP) — An avalanche roared through a section of expert trails at a California ski resort near Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, wiping out four people and killing one. A great storm Officials said snow and strong winds moved into the area.
The avalanche occurred around 9:30 a.m. and prompted the closure of Palisades Tahoe as search crews combed the area under lift K-22, which opened for the first time this season 30 minutes earlier. It offers “black diamond” runs for skilled skiers and snowboarders.
Skier Mark Sponsler said he arrived at the KD-22 lift amid howling winds and white-out conditions to find it closed. Unbeknownst to him, the avalanche hit him just then.
He spoke to someone who was in the second group to board the lift that morning. The man was in a lift and saw the disaster from above, said Sponsler, a veteran weather forecaster and founder of stormsurf.com.
“There was screaming, skis and poles and a hand sticking out of the snow,” the witness told him.
The avalanche debris field was about 150 feet (45.72 meters) wide, 450 feet (137.16 meters) long and 10 feet (3.05 meters) deep, the sheriff's office said.
“It's a very sad day for my team and everyone here,” said Dee Byrne, president of Palisades Tahoe, with emotion in her voice.
The Placer County Sheriff's Office identified the slain man as Kenneth Kidd, 66, of nearby Truckee and Point Reyes. One suffered a lower leg injury, and two others were treated for unspecified injuries and released, officials said.
Avalanche occurred on steep slopes in GS Gully area. Ski patrols have been on the slopes since Sunday checking avalanche conditions, said Michael Cross, vice president of mountain operations.
“They're doing containment work, assessing the weather conditions, setting up all the safety signs, hazard signs and so on to get them ready for today's opening ceremony,” Gross said at a news conference Wednesday.
Officials said the cause of the avalanche is under investigation. This comes as the powerful storm is expected to bring 2 feet (61 centimeters) of snow to the highest elevations early Thursday.
The Palisades, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is located on the west side of Lake Tahoe, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Reno, Nevada. Winds at the top of Palisades Resort (8,000 feet) during the avalanche reached 31 mph and 38 mph.
Dan Lawley, 67, of Reno, is a season pass holder at the Palisades and mostly skied the alpine meadow Monday when skiing was thin and the KT-22 lift was closed.
The giant slalom was held during the 1960 Olympics where the KD-22 runs alongside the lift.
“Really good skiers love it because it's so steep,” he said. “I remember skiing there when I was very young. I fell like two-thirds of the way down the hill. It was so steep there was no way to stop.
Wednesday's death was the first U.S. avalanche death of the season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which monitors statewide.
A 2020 Avalanche in the Alpine meadow A skier is killed and another seriously injured after a major storm. Another avalanche at the resort in March 1982 killed seven people, including several employees.
Dazio reports from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Jason Dearen and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.