Dramatic Escape: Skier Survives Avalanche Tragedy at California Ski Resort

RENO, Nevada – A skier who survived being buried by an avalanche that swept down a mountain at a California resort near Lake Tahoe plans to return to the slopes. The avalanche tragically claimed the life of a 66-year-old man, making it the first avalanche death of the season in the United States. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of backcountry slopes compared to resort trails, where such fatalities are less common.

Following the avalanche, Palisades Tahoe shut down all lifts and trails but reopened many of them the next day. However, the iconic KT-22 lift, located in the area where the slide occurred, remained closed for clearing operations. Crews are working diligently to clear the road and enable snowcats and snowmobiles to access the site. Nearby Alpine Meadows resort also had about half of its lifts open, but the gondola connecting it to Palisades stayed closed.

The avalanche struck on a day when the area was blanketed with snow. Four people were caught in its path, resulting in a debris field that stretched approximately 150 feet wide, 450 feet long, and 10 feet deep, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

Janet He, a skier who experienced the terrifying ordeal, found herself buried under the snow after being swept 200 feet down the slope. Unable to breathe, she feared for her life. Fortunately, her husband, Joseph Lu, was able to locate her with the help of a stranger and pull her to safety. Janet and Joseph walked away uninjured and intended to ski once again the following day.

The tragic incident occurred at Palisades, a renowned ski resort on the western side of Lake Tahoe. The victim, Kenneth Kidd, hailed from Truckee and Point Reyes. Another individual suffered a lower leg injury, while two others were treated for minor injuries and subsequently released.

Ethan Greene, the executive director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, acknowledged the efforts of ski resorts in mitigating avalanche risks by triggering smaller controlled slides when trails are closed. He emphasized that only a small percentage of avalanche deaths in the past decade have occurred in operational areas of ski resorts. However, Greene acknowledged the inherent risk associated with unpredictable natural hazards and highlighted the complex systems present in mountain environments.

The Sierra Avalanche Center’s forecast for the region predicted ongoing dangerous avalanche conditions. Another skier caught in the avalanche estimated that he was buried beneath a foot of snow and debris for about eight minutes. Despite the terror of the experience, he was rescued by locals who knew the area well.

While the KT-22 lift had just opened for the season shortly before the avalanche, officials at Palisades Tahoe assured the public that extensive evaluations are conducted before declaring an area safe. These evaluations involve reviewing historical weather data, current forecasts, wind speed, and snow density. Nevertheless, avalanches remain a distinct possibility, especially during or after snowstorms or when there are rapid temperature changes.

Over the past decade, an average of 24 people have died each year in avalanches in the United States, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. In 2020, an avalanche at Alpine Meadows killed one skier and seriously injured another. The center’s executive director, Ethan Greene, warns outdoor enthusiasts to remain cautious during the upcoming holiday weekend, as the region is expected to experience heightened avalanche danger due to recent snowfall.

In conclusion, the recent avalanche at the California resort near Lake Tahoe resulted in one fatality and several others being trapped. Despite the resort’s efforts to mitigate risks, avalanches remain an unpredictable and dangerous natural hazard. Skiers and snowboarders must exercise caution and stay informed about local avalanche conditions to ensure their safety on the slopes.