Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

John Branch, sportswriter for the New York Times, is one of my favorite feature writers. Who else writes about what tennis courts are made of, generations of cattle ranchers turned rodeo stars,  champion horseshoe players and deathly avalanches all within the same breath? One of the first pieces to wake me to the love of longform, I am continually invigorated by this Pulitzer-winning masterpiece. 

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

By: John Branch, for the New York Times

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 avalanche was the size of more than a thousand cars barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving about 7o miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shredding bark from their trunks.

The avalanche, in Washington’s Cascades in February, 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.