Snow Fall

A harrowing tale of life and death in an out-of-bounds ski area in Washington State, this is the extended version of the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times report.

  1. Mummified

    The snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: “Avalanche! Elyse!”

    The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought—fresh, soft snow—instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.

    Snow shattered and spilled down the slope. Within seconds, the Tunnel Creek avalanche in February was the size of more than a thousand cars barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving about 70 miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shredding bark from their trunks.

    The avalanche slid past some trees and rocks, like ocean swells around a ship’s prow. Others it captured and added to its violent load.

    Somewhere inside, it also carried people. How many, no one knew.

    The slope of the terrain, shaped like a funnel, squeezed the growing swell of churning snow into a steep, twisting gorge. It moved in surges, like a roller coaster on a series of drops and high-banked turns. It accelerated as the slope steepened and the weight of the slide pushed from behind. It slithered through shallower pitches. The energy raised the temperature of the snow a couple of degrees, and the friction carved striations high in the icy sides of the canyon walls.

    Elyse Saugstad wore a backpack equipped with an air bag...

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