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Accidental explosion blamed for death of Squaw Valley ski patroller on avalanche duty

RENO — A ski patrol member was killed Tuesday in an accident involving explosives used to artificially trigger an avalanche at a Lake Tahoe ski resort, resort officials said.

Joe Zuiches, 42, of Olympic Valley, California was killed while working with an avalanche-control crew to try to reduce the threat of a sudden, natural avalanche before the slopes were scheduled to open to the public later Tuesday morning at the Squaw Valley ski resort north of Tahoe City, California, the resort said.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office and the North Tahoe Fire Department are investigating the accident and official cause of death. But the resort said in a statement Tuesday afternoon the “cause is believed to be the detonation of an explosive charge.”

Zuiches, who died at about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, had been a member of the Squaw Valley professional ski patrol since 2012.

The resort says he left behind a wife and infant son. Family and friends have established the Joe Zuiches Memorial Fund through Go Fund Me to help cover funeral expenses.

Squaw Valley, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, was closed Tuesday as a result of the death. Neighboring Alpine Meadows remained open.

“The team at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is deeply saddened by this tragic event, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends affected,” the resort said in a statement.

More than 3 feet of snow fell Monday on top of the Sierra Nevada. More than 23 feet of snow has fallen at some area resorts since Jan. 1.

The area had been under an avalanche warning much of the past two weeks, but the Sierra Avalanche Center listed the risk as “moderate” on Tuesday.

Early Monday, two California men were trapped in their car for about an hour when an avalanche buried the vehicle on State Highway 89 a few miles from Squaw Valley, which is south of U.S. Interstate 80 between Tahoe City and Truckee, California.

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