OLYMPIC VALLEY — An avalanche roared through a section of expert trails at a California ski resort near Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring another, as a major storm with snow and gusty winds moved into the region, authorities said.
The avalanche prompted Palisades Tahoe to close 30 minutes after it opened, and search crews combed the area to see if anyone was injured or trapped.
Sgt. David Smith, a spokesperson for the Placer County sheriff, said hours later that one person, a male, died, and another person sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Olympic Valley Fire Chief Brad Chisholm said the injured person suffered a lower leg injury.
Officials said nobody else was missing.
“This is a very sad day for my team and everyone here,” said Dee Byrne, president of Palisades Tahoe, her voice emotional.
The avalanche occurred around 9:30 a.m. on steep slopes in the popular GS Gully area under the KT-22 lift, which serves “black diamond” runs for skilled skiers and snowboarders. Palisades Tahoe said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, that both sides of the mountain at the resort would be closed for the rest of the day.
The people who were killed and injured were guests at the resort and from out of town, officials said. Two others were caught in the slide and extracted from the snow without injuries.
The avalanche debris field spanned about 150 feet wide, 450 feet long, and 10 feet deep, the sheriff’s office said.
Cause of Avalanche Under Investigation
The cause of the avalanche is under investigation, officials said. Michael Gross, vice president of mountain operations, said ski patrols had been on the slopes checking the avalanche conditions since Sunday.
“They’ve been up there doing control work, evaluating weather conditions, setting up all safety markings, hazard markings, etc., to get them prepared for today’s opening,” Gross told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.
Palisades is on the western side of Lake Tahoe, about 40 miles from Reno, Nevada. The resort was the host site for the 1960 Winter Olympics.
100 MPH Wind Gusts in the Area
Winds gusted more than 100 mph over ridgetops around Lake Tahoe late Tuesday ahead of a powerful storm expected to bring as much as 2 feet of snow to the highest elevations by early Thursday. The National Weather Service in Reno said 2 inches could fall per hour Wednesday around the lake.
The service said a 110 mph gust was recorded Tuesday afternoon at the summit of Alpine Meadows, the neighboring sister resort of Palisades south of Truckee, California.
A 2020 avalanche at Alpine Meadows killed one skier and seriously injured another a day after a major storm. An avalanche at Alpine Meadows in March 1982 killed seven people, including several employees of the ski resort.
KT-22 Lift Closed Monday Due to Lack of Snow
Dan Lavely, 67, of Reno is a season pass holder at Palisades and skied mostly at Alpine Meadows on Monday when there was very little snow and the KT-22 lift was closed.
“They didn’t have enough snow to open the lift, it wasn’t even running. … Today was supposed to be the first day they opened KT-22,” he said.
The steep run along the side of the lift is where the giant slalom was held during the 1960 Olympics, he said.
“Really good skiers love it because it’s really steep,” he said. “I remember when I was really young I was skiing around there. I fell over and slid like two-thirds of the way down the mountain. There was no way to stop because it’s just so steep.”