TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — After a winter of dry, balmy conditions, the splashy white product of last weekend's storm was a welcome sight for skiers and snowboarders. But the hazards of deep snow became tragically apparent once again.
“Great snow brings lots of riders and skiers, but it also creates problems and increases the need for risk management,” said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Areas Association.
Three people at three different ski resorts were killed in accidents during the weekend and Monday.
On Monday, Sugar Bowl Resort employee Justin McCollum, 20, fell headfirst into a tree well at the ski area. According to a press release, ski patrol performed First Aid and transported McCollum to the base area, where a helicopter and paramedics were standing by; he was pronounced dead before he could be transported.
Sunday, 54-year-old Yiwei Hu of Gold River died after falling into a deep hole in the snow created by an under-flow of water near Castle Creek at Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort. Rescue teams from El Dorado County Search and Rescue tried to resuscitate Hu. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Also Sunday, Kynan Stanners, 30, suffocated to death after falling headfirst into deep snow at China Peak Mountain Resort, south of Yosemite National Park, the Associated Press reported.
Last Thursday, Scott Fritz, 51, of Reno died in a skiing accident at Northstar California. A spokeswoman for the Placer County Sheriff's Office said no one witnessed the accident and Fritz most likely struck a tree, according to various reports. He was wearing a helmet, according to Northstar.
Though riddled with tragedy, thousands of people flocked to Lake Tahoe to hit the slopes for the weekend. Some resorts reported the storm dropped as much as 9 feet of snow since the early part of last week, and made for one of the busiest weekends of the season.
“All this snow has allowed us to open Killebrew Canyon,” Heavenly Mountain Resort general manager Pete Sonntag said in a statement. “This storm has set us up for incredible spring skiing and riding all the way through the end of the season.”
Heavenly received 63 inches of snow throughout the storm, according to the resort's snow report.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort got 109 inches, with snow falling through Monday. Hoots echoed through the lift lines Sunday as ski patrol opened fresh terrain through the day.
“Mother Nature brought it back. You couldn't have asked for a better system,” said Kirkwood spokesman Kevin “Coop” Cooper. “The mountain looks like it's been repainted.”
In the afternoon Sunday, a small avalanche in the Sentinel Bowl trapped a pair of skiers. One of them was able to escape and ski for help. Ski patrol unburied the other skier, who was then taken to the hospital with minor injuries, according to the Associated Press.
— Bonanza Managing Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.