As it prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hosting the Winter Olympics, a tight-knit Sierra Nevada ski community is mourning another loss in an unusual string of tragedies this season.
A skier’s deadly collision with a tree Thursday at California’s Squaw Valley USA resort is the latest in the series that involves two other skiers killed in avalanches and nine deaths in all.
Off the slopes, a shuttle bus crash killed a resort employee in April, and three young women hoping to get seasonal jobs died of carbon monoxide poisoning in December while sleeping in a car just outside the resort.
Extreme skier Shane McConkey of Squaw Valley died in March while jumping off a cliff with a parachute in Italy. And Dave Pedersen, the resort’s race services director, died of cancer in February.
“To say this has been a year of tragedy is an understatement,” said Savannah Cowley, a resort spokeswoman. “It has been tragedies that have really, really struck our community. This is unprecedented as far as the grief this mountain has gone through.”
Pete Bansen, Squaw Valley’s fire chief, said he can’t recall as many different kinds of fatalities in his 30 years in the resort community.
The avalanches – one killing ski patrol member Andrew Entin, 41, in March, and the other killing Randall Davis, 21, of Tahoe City, in December – were especially rare for Squaw Valley, he said. They were the first inbounds avalanche fatalities at the resort since 1963.
“There have certainly been a lot of unusual accidents this year,” Bansen said. “Each is profound in its own way, and each deeply affected a different group of people.”
Les Pedersen, spokesman for the neighboring, separately owned Resort at Squaw Creek, said such bad luck is not unique to Squaw Valley.
In April, an employee shuttle bus operated by Peder-sen’s resort crashed on Interstate 80 west of Reno, killing Pablo Olivas, a 25-year-old dishwasher, who was a passenger, and injuring 24 others.
“Unfortunately, these tragedies are all too common at mountain resorts,” Pedersen said.
“Almost everybody knows everybody up here. It has a small-town feel. When it happens, it hurts on a very personal level,” he added.
In 2006, nine people were killed at California’s Mammoth Mountain ski resort near Yosemite National Park. “I’m convinced what we’ve encountered this season is completely abnormal,” Cowley said. She doesn’t think the deaths will put a damper on the community as it prepares next season to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hosting the Games and the 60th anniversary of the ski resort’s founding.
“All the people we’ve lost this year were extremely high-spirited people who would want us to go on and embrace the sport we love,” Cowley said.
Squaw Valley founder Alexander C. Cushing helped launch the sport of alpine skiing in the United States by hosting the 1960 Games at his Lake Tahoe-area resort. Cushing, who died in 2006 at age 92, opened the resort in 1949 with one chairlift, a rope tow and a 50-room lodge. Now, it has 34 lifts and an alpine village with upscale restaurants, shops and lodging.
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