There, But for the Grace of God, Go I
Sometime around 3:00pm MST I heard that familiar chirp, and glanced down at my phone to see the over-sized logo of the New York Times, followed by the words: “SNOW FALL – The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek”.
I find “avalanche” to be a particularly powerful and impactful word. I can remember the exact moment my understanding of the word changed forever.
The Story Goes As This:
Right turn off a small wind lip onto the short steepening face; muscle memory angulating into the next turn, just past a mid-sized Lodge Pole; the ground evaporates beneath. A grave-deep fracture opens; ending in pine needles and depth hoar…
The mid-sized Lodge Pole forcibly blocks my decent and intrigue is instantaneously and forever replaced by respect and fear and … respect.
John Branch and his supporting researchers, designers, videographers and photographers have done something amazing in their presentation of this tragedy. They have made an effort to tell a complete story. I don’t mean to say I have evaluated their fact finding abilities and endorse their conclusions. Nor do I mean to say that there is no more to be said on the topic.
Rather, I mean to say: I’ve stood at the camp fire, held the PBR, hiked the hike, felt the anxiety, squelched the doubt, reveled in the bliss, justified the risk and wrestled with the trade offs. They got it right. This is what happens out there. This story recognizes the positive actions of the characters without attempting to create heroes; and exposes the inherent hazards of “group think” without demonizing the individual. It leaves you with the understanding that the people involved in this horror are just that…people.
An immensely respected colleague, Malcolm Daly, just posted, “Everyone who skis in the back country needs to read this. Everyone. Plan on spending an hour on it.”
Plan on spending an hour on it!?… Really? In the age of 140 character communication, an hour is a pretty substantial commitment. But this is a pretty substantial story, told in a pretty substantial way.