In-Bounds Avalanche Kills Skier at Palisades Tahoe
And it could have been any one of us.
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The Mothership calls us all home at some point
Walking up the main village strip at Palisades Tahoe, first-time visitors encounter one of the most spectacular out-of-base lift fleets in North America. A 120-person tram and America’s only funitel – basically a giant gondola – rise approximately 2,000 feet. One of the longest and most expensive lifts on the continent, the new-last-year eight-passenger Base-to-Base Gondola, sits alongside these, shuttling skiers back and forth to Alpine Meadows. The brand-new Red Dog six-pack sits right down the slope, the Wa She Shu high-speed quad lifts skiers to the vast upper-mountain intermediate meadows, and a fixed-grip quad called Exhibition runs 900 feet uphill.
But everyone wants to ride the Mothership. Officially, this is the KT-22 Express, a 1,755-vertical-foot high-speed quad that replaced an equally legendary Riblet double in 1995. As far as aspirational North American lifts go, it has few peers. KT is one of the few chairlifts that, from a terrain-radness point of view, you can categorize alongside the trams at Snowbird, Big Sky, and Jackson. It’s that rowdy, that good, a proving ground for the recreational ripper. If one lift and one terrain pod defines America’s second-largest ski area, it’s KT-22.
So when the terrain opened for the season on Wednesday, a powder day, you can imagine the rabid anticipation. No swath of expert terrain in the country gets tracked out faster, and competition for those first lines is ferocious. Unfortunately, the mountain wasn’t in a giving mood. Per the AP:
An avalanche roared through a section of expert trails at a California ski resort near Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, sweeping up four people and killing one, as a major storm with snow and gusty winds moved into the region, authorities said.
The avalanche occurred about 9:30 a.m. and prompted Palisades Tahoe to close as search crews combed the area under the K-22 lift, which 30 minutes earlier had opened for the first time this season. …
The Placer County Sheriff’s Office identified the person killed as Kenneth Kidd, 66, a resident of nearby Truckee and Point Reyes. One person suffered a lower leg injury and two others were treated for unspecified injuries and released, officials said.
The avalanche occurred on steep slopes in the GS Gully area. 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, et cetera, to get them prepared for today’s opening,” Gross said at a news conference Wednesday.
The resort closed for the day after the Wednesday slide, and opened late on Thursday. Another avalanche let loose in Wolverine Bowl on the Alpine Meadows side around 12:30 p.m. that day. No one was killed or injured in that second incident. The Wednesday slide was at least the third fatal in-bounds avalanche at the resort, following a 2020 incident that killed one and a 1982 slide that killed seven, both at Alpine Meadows.
KT-22 re-opened today. Skiers will continue to ride it. That lift will always be the spiritual heart of Palisades Tahoe and of California skiing, an Ikon Pass beacon that summons us like the Back Bowls at Vail or Alf’s High Rustler at Alta or Kachina Peak at Taos. American skiing, manicured as it often is to accommodate the masses, also taps, through these wild realms, something dashing and daring within us, feeding a superhero self-image that we are collectively obliged to believe in. How else to explain that such terrain exists, open to all, in a society so litigious, so eager to blame?
The Palisades Tahoe Ski Patrol is one of the most well-regarded such teams in the world. If they made a mistake in opening the terrain on Wednesday, we’ll find out. “The cause of the avalanche is under investigation, officials said,” the AP reported. Who those officials are is unclear. In highly regulated California, any investigation is likely to be comprehensive, thorough and illuminating.
I wish I had something more to add here. But I have nothing but sadness and resignation. Normal cliched crap. No one should die skiing, but it happens all the time. Your body gives out or the mountain gives out or you lose control and smash into something less mobile than your head. Most of us won’t die skiing, but some of us will and we all know that.
Windham is doing exactly what they said they would
Seven Ikon Pass destinations – Aspen, Jackson, Deer Valley, Big Sky, Snoqualmie, Loon, and Windham – require advanced reservations to access the lifts. As of this writing, passholders could reserve any day for the remainder of this ski season at any of those resorts, with one exception: weekends and the two Monday holidays through March 17 at Windham, New York.
Raised pitchforks have been descending upon Windham for months, but the outrage peaked over the past week, as disgruntled Ikon Pass holders discovered the blocked dates and vented about it on social media. It’s the top discussion topic in my email inbox.
So I called longtime Windham President Chip Seamans on Friday to figure out what’s going on.