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Squaw Valley resort fined $20,000 after avalanche control explosion that killed ski patroller

Lake Tahoe is seen from the top of the tram at the Squaw Valley ski area. A ski patroller was killed last year at the resort during the use of explosives in avalanche control operations.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

California’s worker safety agency has fined Squaw Valley Ski Holldings LLC for an accident at the Squaw Valley resort last year in which a ski patroller working on avalanche control operations was killed.

Cal/OSHA cited two “serious” violations in the Jan. 24 death of 42-year-old Joe Zuiches.

Zuiches died about 8:35 a.m. at the top of the Gold Coast Ridge after exploding a hand charge containing ammonium nitrate, Squaw Valley officials said at the time of the incident.

In its citations, the charge was described as weighing 1.8 pounds with a cap and fuse with a 90 second burn rate that exploded near Zuiches’ torso.

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The resort had failed to implement a safety procedure associated with hang cord entanglements during hang cord blasting operations, Cal/OSHA said. The penalty for the violation was $11,250.

The second serious violation was that the snow avalanche blasting crew failed to ensure that all crew members maintained visual contact and awareness of the location of all workers during avalanche control activities, Cal/OSHA said. The penalty for that violation was $9,000.

According to the citations, Zuiches was part of a four-person team that was operating in two pairs that were leap-frogging each other’s avalanche blasting operations on Gold Coast Ridge.

Zuiches told his partner to go ahead and meet the other team while he performed the blast, the report stated. Zuiches’ colleague met up with the other members and then heard a couple of explosions. When the group radioed to Zuiches they received no answer. After another failed attempt to reach him, the employees went to his last known location and found his body, the report stated.

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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