Squaw Valley is known for its incredible ski slopes and trails. For more than 50 years, skiers have enjoyed Squaw Valley’s hospitality and winter sports. The ski industry has gone through five years of agony, thanks to the drought that has crippled most of the Western part of the United States. Skiers have been faced with short seasons, no snow, and warmer weather. Those issues have forced many ski resorts to close. But Squaw Valley endured the drought. The 2015/2016 ski season was a good one, and according to the weather forecasts, the 2016/ 2017 season is going to be better. But Squaw Valley faced a monumental hurdle at the beginning of this year’s season. Before the first major snowfall of the season, a torrential rain hit Squaw Valley, and the raging water contaminated four wells that serve two areas of the resort.
The four wells were contaminated with the E. coli bacteria. The E. coli bacteria can cause disease by producing Shiga toxin in humans. The bacteria that make the Shiga toxin are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli or STEC. The STEC outbreaks in the United States are the work of the E. coli O157:H7. Symptoms of STEC infections include vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Most infections are mild, but some infections can be life-threatening. The Center for Disease Control claims there are more than 265,000 E. coli infections every year in the U.S. The E. coli O157:H7 causes over 36 percent of those infections.
When a routine test was done on the wells after the rain, the E. Coli bacteria was discovered in those tests. Squaw Valley officials immediately contacted the Environmental Health Department in Placer County and the Squaw Valley Public Service District. Other water experts were also called in to assess the situation. Squaw Valley immediately stopped using the water from those wells, so none of the guests were exposed to the bacteria. Liesl Kenney, the Public Relations Director for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, issued a report that explained the water situation, and what the resort was doing to clean the two water systems that were affected by the contamination.
The two water systems involved are the Gold Coast and High Camp water systems. The skiers staying in those areas were not exposed to E. coli, according to Liesl Kenney’s report. The restaurants in those areas were closed, and free bottled water was given to the guests.
Andy Wirth, the CEO of Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows, said the resort is taking every precaution to ensure skier safety. Thanks to the quick work of resort officials, and the two local organizations that are involved in the cleanup, three of the four wells are no longer contaminated by the virus. The cleanup work will continue until all signs of contamination are gone. The wells will be checked on a regular basis, so skiers feel comfortable with the water system, according to Wirth.
The 2016/2017 ski season is off to a good start. The snow came early this season, and snow continues to fall in the Sierra Mountain range.