Squaw Valley Ski Resort Fined $20,250 by Cal/OSHA for Ski Patoller’s Death This Year

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Joe Zuiches and family. photo: joe zuiches facebook

On January 24th, 2017 Squaw Valley Professional Ski Patroller Joe Zuiches, 42, was killed while performing avalanche control duties on Mainline Pocket above the Gold Coast chairlift at Squaw Valley ski resort in Lake Tahoe, CA.

Joe was killed when an explosive charge went off near him.  Joe was 42-years-old and leaves behind a wife an infant son.

A 6 month investigation has been underway since the day of Joe’s death and that investigation has ended in 2 California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) citations for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings.

Cal/OSHA determined that Squaw had violated 2 workplace safety codes and has fined the ski resort $20,250.

CAL/OSHA Cited Squaw Valley For:

  • “correct an identified unsafe working condition…  associated with hang cord entanglement during hang cord blasting operations” – $11,250 citation
  • “The employer failed to ensure that all crew members maintained visual contact or awareness of physical location of crew members during avalanche control activities.” – $9,000 citation
Joe Zuiches and son, Cannon. photo: joe zuiches facebook

According to Cal/OSHA and an article by MoonShine Ink, the exact cause of Joe’s death has not been determined.  There were no witnesses.  Cal/OSHA did issue the citation above that refers to “hang cord entanglement during hang cord blasting operations” but that alleged entanglement may or may not have lead to the accident itself.

Map showing location of Mainline Pocket, where the accident occurred.

Cal/OSHA’s Investigation Found That:

  • Joe and another patroller were performing avalanche control on Mainline Pocket using Dyno AP Plus 1.8-pound explosives with cap and fuse with a 90-second burn rate  
  • During that avalanche control route, Joe told the other patroller he was working with to head over to another ski patrol crew without informing the other crew that he had sent him – which is a violation of the California state blasting code
  • The explosive that Joe was working with then went off

“One crew of blasters was unaware that a blaster in a second crew was traveling to the first crew’s location while both crews were deploying explosives.” – Cal/OSHA citation for Squaw Valley

After Joe’s bomb went off, the other ski patrol crew radioed to Joe without answer.  They moved to Joe’s last known location to find him deceased due to an explosive having gone off near his torso.

Joe Zuiches and wife Mikki. photo: joe zuiches facebook

Squaw Valley has appealed the 2 citations that Cal/OSHA has issued.  This appeals process could take up to 6 months before finalization.

The last time a ski patroller was killed by an explosive was at Alpine Meadows, CA in 1998 by a 106-caliber howitzer when the howitzer misfired.  In 1974, a ski patroller was seriously injured by a hand charge when it exploded near him.

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