Cal/OSHA cites, fines Squaw Valley following investigation into ski patroller's death

Cal/OSHA cites, fines Squaw Valley following investigation into ski patroller's death

Following an investigation into the January death of a Squaw Valley ski patroller, California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited and fined Squaw Valley Ski Holdings for violating two workplace safety codes, according to documents obtained by News 4-Fox 11.

On Jan. 24, 2017, Joe Zuiches, a 42-year-old Squaw Valley ski patroller, was killed during avalanche control activities at the top of Gold Coast Ridge at Squaw Valley Ski Resort.

Six months later, Cal/OSHA has cited Squaw Valley for "failing to correct an identified unsafe working condition by implementing a procedure for protection against the workplace hazards associated with hang cord entanglement during hang cord blasting operations" for a fine of $11,250.

The agency also cited the ski resort for "failing to ensure that all crewmembers maintained visual contact or awareness of physical location of crewmembers at all times during avalanche control activities" for a fine of $9,000.

In all, Squaw Valley faces $20,250 in fines.

According to the investigation, on Jan. 24, 2017, two teams of patrollers were assigned to the Gold Coast Ridge for avalanche control. The patrollers were blasting by hand and hang cord deployment with "Dyno AP Plus 1.8-pound explosives with cap and fuse with a 90-second burn rate."

At round 8:30 a.m., officials say Zuiches instructed his partner to join the other team and that he would meet him after he performed the hanging cord blast where they were currently located. According to the citation, after joining the other team, Zuiches' partner heard a couple of explosive detonations in the area. Roughly 30 seconds later, he radioed Zuiches but didn't receive a response.

The patrollers then returned to the last known location of Zuiches and found him dead. Nobody working in the area witnessed the incident, officials say.

Squaw Valley Public Relations Coordinator Sam Kieckhefer tells News 4-Fox 11 that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings has chosen to appeal the citation.

“We are respectful of the guidelines put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and have immediately appealed this citation. Because of that, we have no comment due to the ongoing nature of the legal process," Squaw Valley said in a statement issued to News 4-Fox 11.

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