- Jim Jack
Even for those who know how the story ends, certain moments in the New York Times’ “Snow Fall” will tie your stomach in knots. There are the early moments of uneasiness, as some skiers wonder whether it’s safe to take a big group down the backcountry route. There are the 16 seconds when 11 million pounds of snow and ice plunge down the mountain, over skiers trapped beneath it. And there are the discoveries.
The Times’ recent six-part multi-dimensional story is the most detailed account yet of last season’s tragedy at Stevens Pass. The avalanche struck as 16 experienced skiers and snowboarders started their descent down Tunnel Creek, a piece of terrain on the southwest side of the 6,000-foot Cowboy Mountain. It killed three of them, all experienced and well known in the mountain’s community, including legend Jim Jack, who was featured in an issue of Snowlander just days earlier. Alongside a lengthy narrative, the Times uses video and interactive graphics to show exactly how and where the snow rushed down the mountain, crushing everything in its path.
In recent years, more skiers have headed toward the backcountry, finding adventure but also increased risk. Nationwide, avalanches killed 34 people last season, including eight who were skiing out of a mountain’s normal bounds. Some blame nature’s unpredictability. Others cite a sort of “group think,” where even experienced skiers can ignore potential danger.
“It’s a cultural shift, where more skiers are going farther, faster, bigger,” John Stifter, the editor of Powder magazine and a survivor of this avalanche, told the Times. “Which is tending to push your pro skiers or other experienced, elite-level backcountry skiers that much farther, faster and bigger, to the point where there’s no margin for error.”
Today at Stevens Pass, skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers can take classes on avalanche safety, first aid and safe backcountry travel. Classes run from $75 to $300 and are listed on stevenspass.com.
To read “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” visit nytimes.com/snow-fall.