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Witness disputes Squaw Valley's claim about Auburn skier's fatal crash

Meadow Vista man denies CEO's statement that they were in closed area
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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A Meadow Vista man who witnessed his Auburn skiing partner’s fatal accident is vehemently disputing Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth’s statement that it occurred on a closed run.

Greg Bernardo said in his letter addressed to Wirth that he was “outraged,” to read what Wirth had told media about the closure in the days after the death of 71-year-old Ted Sorensen in December.

Wirth said he received the letter Tuesday. He said his comments were not intended to offend anyone or reflect negatively in any way on Sorensen, and Wirth reaffirmed his statement that the run had been closed.

“It was certainly not, as I stated in the letter,” Bernardo said. “It was not. There was no indication anywhere that that was closed. Maybe it was closed after the fact, but it certainly was not closed at that point in time. We wouldn’t have been there if it was.”

Sorensen collided with a tree on the west face of KT-22 about 11 a.m. Dec. 21 and had been wearing a helmet, according to Squaw Valley, which is located in Placer County.

Bernardo supplied the Journal with a copy of the letter, and also copied it to two other resort officials and its ski patrol, as well as to Dona Sorensen, Ted’s widow.

Asked why he wrote the letter, Bernardo said Wirth’s statement compounded the pain felt by Sorensen’s family. In December, Dona Sorensen said he had always been an expert, cautious skier.

When interviewed by the Journal in the days after the accident, Wirth said “the area where Mr. Sorensen had started skiing was roped off or closed by our professional ski patrol.”

“I can’t emphasize enough the fact that … they should not, nor could they ever be construed as a sort of negative comment on this gentleman’s capabilities and skills,” Wirth said. “It’s unfortunate if the comment that I made offended or actually saddened these folks. It certainly was not the intent.”

Wirth said Sorensen had been a skilled skier by all accounts and was familiar with the ski areas around Lake Tahoe. Sorensen helped many people get started in the sport, Wirth said.

Sorensen had been a ski instructor at Sugar Bowl for several years and a former San Jose firefighter of 30 years, so safety was something he not only taught others but took to heart himself, Dona Sorensen said in December.

Bernardo said several people have told him that Sorensen would never have skied in a closed area.

“(Bernardo’s) comments and thoughts (in the letter) were quite understandable,” Wirth said, “because there’s never been any intent on anyone on our team’s part to convey this gentleman was anything but an experienced skier and a gentleman who was held in very high regard as a skier.”

He said at the time of the incident there had been an appropriate number of signs notifying skiers of the run closure, and that the resort had used standard industry practices to represent the area had been “closed throughout the morning’s operations.”

Bernardo said they had entered the run from the top, which he called “a likely entry point,” and it was not roped off nor did he see any signs indicating it had been closed.

“The only sign that was posted was a caution sign that was placed approximately fifty feet ahead of the area where the accident occurred,” Bernardo wrote in the letter. “As you know, in order to access that area of KT-22 it is necessary to ski past a ski patrol hut located on the top of the ridge, if the area was in fact closed as you stated, it would have been simple to place a sign at that point indicating there was a danger ahead.

“There was, however, in fact no indication anywhere that there was a closure in the area.”

Bernardo said he received several messages from Wirth about the letter and had been trying to connect with him. Bernardo said all he’s asking for is the truth.

Wirth said after “virtually every accident” at Squaw Valley, its risk management team performs an investigation, and he was able to confirm the closure through that report.

“All of the normal and standard practices through the morning and day were utilized, from the snow report to the signage on the hill on the slope that was involved in this tragic accident,” he said.

Asked what it says about the resort’s signage practices that Bernardo had been unaware they had entered a closed area, Wirth said he had no comment because that would be speculative.

“Our track record relative to safety is quite solid,” Wirth said. “We have a consistent engagement of reviewing practices and ensuring they are consistent with industry practices.”

Cpt. Jeff Ausnow, commander of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office Tahoe sub station, confirmed Bernardo was listed as a witness to Sorensen’s accident on the coroner’s report.

“Nothing in the documentation we took during the time of the event indicates whether that area of the mountain was open or closed at the time of the incident,” Ausnow said. “That would be the sole decision of Squaw Valley.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews