Realizing its status as one of the most avalanche susceptible resorts in Amercia, Alpine Meadows has always employed a careful and aggressive snow control program. But nothing could have prepared or protected the resort on March 31, 1982 from a titanic, once-in-a-century avalanche which ferociously swept down from the slopes, killing seven people, severely injuring several more, and causing millions of dollars in damage.
Yet one young woman’s fierce determination to survive, and the heroism of those who saved her, became a triumph of the human spirit in the face of incredible devastation.
A new book, published Feb. 17, gives the true tale of the deadliest ski resort avalanche in U.S. history. ‘A Wall of White: The True Story of Heroism and Survival in the Face of a Deadly Avalanche,’ by Jennifer Woodlief, is a fast-paced, gripping narrative, following in the tradition of ‘Into Thin Air’ and ‘The Perfect Storm.’
Woodlief, a former reporter for Sports Illustrated and author of ‘Ski to Die: The Bill Johnson Story’ (film rights optioned by Warner Brothers), gives readers a full account of the Alpine Meadows disaster. She begins by explaining what creates avalanches and, with compelling detail, the science behind ‘slab’ avalanches (like the one at Alpine Meadows), which are the most destructive. As Woodlief explains, the avalanche at Alpine was a perfect storm of natural events. After five days of near constant snow that totaled more than 8 feet, it was a particular type of snow combined with precise winds and the angle of the resort’s slopes to create not one, but three massive avalanches that fell simultaneously creating an unprecedented wall of snow reaching nearly 3,000 feet wide and a thousand feet tall. ‘The forces generated within the largest avalanches are among the most powerful on earth,’ Woodlief writes.
Throughout the book, Woodlief offers in-depth profiles of the key figures in the tragedy. The most gripping account is that of Anna Conrad, a 22-year-old chair lift operator who along with her boyfriend, Frank Yeatman, were caught in the avalanche’s deadly path. Though Yeatman perished, Conrad survived thanks to wooden lockers and planks that fell over her. Woodlief provides heart-racing details of Conrad’s terrifying ordeal.
~ Meet the author February 19 at 7 p.m. for a free show at the Sawtooth Ridge Cafe in Tahoe City. Larry Heywood will present a slideshow from his personal collection of photos of the ‘82 avalanche followed by a discussion with author Jennifer Woodlief, Anna Conrad, and Gary Murphy. Copies of the book will be for sale, with proceeds to benefit Alpine Meadows Avalanche Program. Contact Alpenglow Sports for info at 530-583-6917. The café will offer an early bird dinner at 5 p.m. Call for reservations 530-583-2880.