Avalanche at Lake Tahoe resort kills 1 skier, injures 1

Scott Sonner
Associated Press

Tahoe City, Calif. – An avalanche Friday at a Lake Tahoe ski resort killed one skier and seriously injured another a day after a storm dumped snow throughout the picturesque area.

The avalanche occurred at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, hitting the two skiers on some of the steepest terrain at the resort, where a series of expert runs snake through trees, past cliffs and down narrow chutes.

The chairlift at the bottom of the Subway run where one person was killed and another seriously injured in an avalanche at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.

“You have to be pretty skilled to get over there in the first place,” said Sean Kent of Reno, who was at Alpine Meadows Friday and has skied the affected area before. “It’s fickle. It comes with the territory. There’s only so much you can do.”

Officials identified the man who died as Cole Comstock, 34, of Blairsden, California. Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Powers said the injured skier had serious lower body injuries and was airlifted to a Lake Tahoe hospital for emergency surgery.

Powers said a ski patrol was on scene in the rugged area almost immediately, where others at the top of the run said two skiers had been on the hill below them in an area within the ski resort’s boundary.

“I know at least one of the victims was partially buried by snow,” Powers said. “When you get conditions like this, there is always a risk of avalanche.”

The Sierra Avalanche Center had warned of dangerous avalanche conditions for all elevations. Its website said there was “a high degree of uncertainty in regards to snowpack instability near and below treeline.”

The storm dumped up to 25 inches (0.63 meters) of snow at the top of the resort, said Edan Weishahn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Reno. She said 1 to 2 feet of snow fell in the surrounding mountains over a 24-hour period.

Search and rescue crews scoured the rest of the mountain with dogs after the avalanche and authorities did not believe there were any more victims.

Snowboarder Rex Mulvaney of Reno said he noticed some areas had been roped off and people were heading back down the mountain.

“I knew right away something was wrong,” he said. “They don’t usually close something as soon as they open it, like five minutes later.”

The cause of the avalanche was under investigation. The resort said avalanche prevention work had been performed in the area before it was opened to skiers for the day.

The tragedy came at the start of a busy holiday weekend where hundreds of people flock to ski resorts surrounding Lake Tahoe, oftentimes enduring hours-long traffic backup and treacherous road conditions to reach the region’s snow-covered slopes.

An avalanche at Alpine Meadows in March 1982 killed seven people, including several employees of the ski resort. It struck several buildings, including the main lodge and two chairlifts, and buried the resort’s parking lot. One woman was discovered after five days, buried in the remains of the ski chalet.

Alpine Meadows, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from Tahoe City, is next to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 winter Olympics. The two resorts are co-owned by Alterra Mountain Co. and operated as Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.

On its website, Alpine Meadows touts itself as a “picturesque playground for families and off-the-radar thrill-seekers.” The property has more than 100 trails across 2,400 acres (971 hectares), groomed runs and chalet-style lodges.

Associated Press writers Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco and Cheyanne Mumphrey in Phoenix contributed to this report.