The New York Times Reports on Stevens Pass Avalanche

Extensive and innovative story on tragedy last February in Washington's Cascades

My heart aches too much to articulate my thoughts and feelings about this 18,000-word feature on a story so close to me. But you, the powder skier, should read it. Make your friends and loved ones read it. Because, despite the group’s collective ski and avalanche safety experience, we lost three tremendous friends. If you’re a passionate skier and like to venture out to the backcountry, please educate yourself with an avalanche awareness class of some kind. It could save your life and those close to your soul. My heart goes out to the friends and families of Johnny Brenan, Jim Jack, and Chris Rudolph.

“Snow Fall” by John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) of The New York Times. Read it here.

The print edition of the story will be available in a special section of the Sunday New York Times.

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  • Gringo

    This is an amazing article. The online version is amazing with the play-by-play interactive mapping. Benchmark piece.
    Every snow bro and shred chicha needs to read this.

  • f9photo

    Great article. Avalanche awareness is very important as the backcountry boom is growing. We just finished two years of filming Avalanche Scientists and Search & Rescue teams in the rocky mountains for the Snow Guardians Documentary

  • Devils Advocate

    but what use is avalanche training if you ignore it as everyone here appeared to?.. The warning bells were going off loud – a bad avalanche report, high snowfall, a dangerous layer in the snowpack and a notorious piece of terrain.. on top of that, if the report is accurate, it seems no-one did any kind of assessment of the conditions at the start, there was no caution of any kind displayed, etc.. what a pity that those that had bad feelings about what was going down didn’t speak up.. and only because they didn’t want to look stupid, lame, etc.. very sad..

    • friend of the devil

      I take two important lessons from the story:

      1. too many people.

      In smaller groups you can manage risk, discuss it, minimize exposure, act as a collective, people will speak up in a group of 3-4. Sure there were a lot of experienced people, but not a single leader who took charge. As you say, no pit, no real organization besides meet at the fire pit and “buddy up”. Who was in charge of risk management for such a large group?

      2. Islands of trees in open terrain are false “safe zones”.

      I learned this from a big storm cycle which resulted in a massive avi that took out a traditional “safe zone” of trees that we’d always counted on when skiing. it was a large stand of 200 year old trees. Normally avis would go to the right or left, but this cycle resulted in a large slide that took them all out. Imagine our surprise when we showed up and saw nothing left. . . .that experience made me realize that you need to be on spines, ridges or DEEP into heavy timber. And the latter is no guarantee. It’s notable that everyone who stopped in the island of trees in the Tunnel Creek incident ended up in the slide, while the two locals who went hard left into the thicker forest didn’t get caught.

      Thank you to John Stifter and everyone else who spoke frankly about this incident. I’m sure that this was very difficult and painful, but learning more about the circumstances of the slide was educational for me and will add to how I assess terrain when skiing into the backcountry. My prayers and thoughts to the families of the victims. Rest in peace.

    • TBar
  • Drew Tabke

    I was very impressed with this thorough, well-informed article. I’ve never once thought very highly of the media’s handling of skiing accidents (or any outdoor sporting accident for that matter), but I think this piece did the gravity and complexity of the event justice.

    John, I know you and countless others’ lives have been totally changed by what occurred that day. I don’t believe in fate, but I also feel that an accident involving so many highly visible and experienced members of our community is not mere coincidence. I hope that when we look back as old men on these sad years, we’ll see where it all fits in the big picture. That this was the low point of a chapter when the tide of backcountry accidents peaked, and because of what happened people’s perspectives changed and in the long run we’ll lose fewer friends because of it.

  • J Burton

    I am going to Stevens tomorrow to bring closure. Johnny was a childhood friend of mine. Was there poor decision making? Probably, but three men died and it was tragic. I will be taking classes and will be properly equipped when I go out. In the excitement of the moment, as I make my decisions, I will think of Johnny, Jim, and Chris.

  • Cindy Black

    I was crying and holding my breath the whole way thru this piece, reprinted in the Seattle Times, even though I knew very well how it ended. It was awful at the time, and seems even awfuller now, after this splendidly written piece. Can’t get it out of my head. BTW I ski Stevens all the time and yes, have gone OOB from time to time. The thought of being buried in the snow until you die, everything black, suffocating and freezing, is just almost unbearable — much worse for someone young and fit. Please add my name to the legions who are so very very sorry.

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