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 prompted Palisades Tahoe to close 30 minutes after it opened, and search crews scoured the area to see if anyone was injured or trapped.
One person, a male, died a few hours later, said Sergeant Placer County Sheriff's spokesman David Smith. One suffered a lower leg injury, and two others were treated for unspecified injuries and released, officials said.
Officials said no one else was missing.
The avalanche occurred around 9:30 a.m. on the steep slopes in the GS Gully area below the KT-22 lift, which offers “black diamond” runs for skilled skiers and snowboarders. 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 told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.
The popular lift opened for the first time this season on Wednesday. In a statement at Palisades Tahoe, X, previously on Twitter, said the entire resort would be closed for the day.
Officials said the person who was killed was a guest at the resort and was from out of town.
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,” Palisades Tahoe president Dee Byrne said with emotion in her voice.
Squire Mark Sponsler said he found the KT-22 lift closed at 9:30 a.m. amid howling winds and white-out conditions. Unbeknownst to him, the avalanche hit him just then.
Talked to someone who was in the second group to ride. The man saw the cataclysmic attack 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.
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. The National Weather Service in Reno said 2 inches (5 centimeters) could fall an hour Wednesday around the lake.
Winds at the top of Palisades Resort (8,000 feet) were between 31 mph and 38 mph between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Wednesday.
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.
“They don't have enough ice to open the lift, it's not even working. … Today should be the first day they open KT-22,” he said.
The steep run down the side of the lift was the giant slalom during the 1960 Olympics, he said.
“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.
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.