By ANDY WIRTH
Choking on my words because of the profound heartbreak, I began the press conference on the afternoon of Jan. 24 with, “It’s hard to think of a circumstance more painful than what we’re about to cover today…”
Last winter we lost one of our patrollers, Joe Zuiches. His loss remains a very real, painful tragedy for our entire team. In that light, after reviewing the recent article published by Moonshine Ink titled “Cal OSHA Fines Squaw in Ski Patroller’s Death Earlier this Year,” I find it necessary to provide an accurate perspective on the citations related to this tragic accident so that our community has a more complete picture of what has transpired since that terrible day.
The article, dated Aug. 8, clearly infers, and in turn, dramatically misleads the reader to conclude that the cause of the accident leading to the death of our team member and experienced ski patroller Joe Zuiches was a direct result of a violation of two Title 8 safety regulations. This is a clear and unnecessary misrepresentation of facts, leaving my team and me bewildered as to why such an article would be published, with a strange bent, and with an accusatory tone that was not only inaccurate but hurtful and painful for all of us at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. The reporter who wrote this story did contact our company for comment, however she seemed to have her mind made up prior to interviewing a Squaw representative. The story was published despite my team telling the writer it was sure to have tremendous emotional impact on our team and community.
I personally have been involved with all facets of the investigations that federal, state, and county agencies have conducted related to this tragic accident. Unfortunately, despite these detailed and exhaustive investigations, there were no conclusions reached by any of the agencies, including Cal/OSHA, as to what caused the accident. We continue to struggle with the fact that to this day we still don’t know what happened. That is, to say the least, tough on all of us — and most importantly on Joe’s widow.
It is critical to know that when Cal/OSHA issued two citations, classified as serious, that they did not classify either citation as accident-related, nor were they determined to be willful or repeat violations. In fact, Cal-OSHA Reporter documented on Aug. 18: “Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) did not have sufficient evidence to issue accident related citations.”
Another point of clarification is that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings had already addressed and implemented changes to the specific protocols included in the citations prior to them being issued.
Finally, the article reported, “Squaw Valley has appealed the citations for all 19 reasons available on the appeals form.” This is true. However — and very critically — this is standard practice since we have not yet been given access to the entire body of investigative work completed to this date. In this circumstance, every rational person would take the course of action and methodology we took on the immediate appeal. The decision to appeal will allow for further examination of the findings, which could lead to changes adopted by our company and Cal/OSHA to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future at our resort and within the industry.
The safety of our employees and guests is critical to everything we do, and permeates every moment of every day. This tragedy has impacted our entire team and remains a profoundly hurtful memory. Thank you for your review of the facts surrounding this tragic accident and the Cal/OSHA citations, which are in the appeal process presently.
~ Andy Wirth is the president of Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows.