To fully understand the message of Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche, it is important to know the true story behind the disaster.
- 90 inches of snow accumulated in four days before the 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche, leading to the resort’s classification as a high-risk area for avalanches.
- The avalanche caused millions of dollars in damage, burying buildings, chairlift terminals, and a parking lot under 10 to 20 feet of snow and resulting in seven deaths.
- Rescue efforts prompted the discovery of survivors, including one woman who was buried for five days before being found by a search dog.
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Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche is a riveting yet heartbreaking documentary that is based on true events. It was created by filmmakers Jared Drake and Steven Siig, who are local to the area and wanted to make something that would tell the story of their community while raising important avalanche awareness. In order to accomplish their mission of avalanche education, the duo partnered with the American Avalanche Association, which is a nonprofit dedicated to avalanche research, outreach, and education. Key players from the incident participated in the documentary, including a ski patroller named Jim Plehn.
The underrated documentary is streaming on Netflix, and it fulfills its purpose: encouraging proper avalanche preparation and warning the public about the dangers of these natural disasters. It won a number of film awards at the BendFilm Festival and Los Angeles Film Festival and has a 100% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition to this, it provides a message of hope and drives home the importance of community. It highlights the stories of real people and how they managed to rebuild in the face of such tragedy. In order to fully grasp the powerful truths that the movie delivers, it is important to understand the true story behind it.
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How Much Snow Fell Before Alpine Meadows’ Avalanche In 1982
Nearly 90 inches of snow accumulated
The Alpine Meadows Avalanche struck on March 31, 1982, but before it did, there was a storm that rolled through the area on March 27. In those four days, nearly 90 inches of snow accumulated, according to Snow Brains. The Alpine Meadows ski resort was in what is known as a Class A area, which means that it had a high potential for avalanches. It received this rating due to its unique and extreme terrain, which included steep chutes and bowls. Given how much snow was falling and this classification, the resort remained closed and most of the staff exited the premises.
The Destruction Of The Alpine Meadows Avalanche Explained
It caused millions of dollars of damage
In March 1982, a series of storms moved in to Alpine Meadows, a community in California that is now called Palisades Tahoe. High winds also accompanied the storms at up to 100 miles per hour. On March 31, tons of snow came down a 700-foot drop. This upended heavy equipment and blew apart a two-story building with its force. Everything in the path of the avalanche became completely consumed. Full-grown trees snapped like twigs, indicating how destructive this avalanche truly was. All the rubble caused by the mass destruction also made it increasingly difficult to find and rescue victims.
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The avalanche hit the Summit Chairlift Terminal building, the main ski lodge, several small buildings, and two chairlifts. It completely buried the parking lot under 10 to 20 feet of snow, ultimately killing two people. The Summit Terminal Building, which housed the ski patrol, avalanche control headquarters, lift operations, ski school and the main avalanche rescue cache, was completely destroyed. The day lodge also sustained superficial damage. Several small buildings were destroyed, as were several over-the-snow vehicles. The total estimated monetary loss was $1.6 million dollars. Unfortunately, there was loss of human life as well.
How Many People Were Killed From The Alpine Meadows Avalanche In 1982?
Seven people were tragically killed
Unfortunately, seven people were killed by the Alpine Meadows Avalanche in 1982. Four of the victims were young employees of the ski resort who did not evacuate when the storm became strong. The other three were two men and a young girl walking in the parking lot, trying to get to safety. The youngest was just 11 years old. The names of the deceased are Frank Yateman, David Hahn, Leroy Nelson, Laura Nelson, Beth Morrow, Bernie Kingery, and Jake Smith. Had the resort not been evacuated prior, this loss would have been even greater.
Were Any Alpine Meadows Avalanche Victims Found Alive?
Victims were found alive
According to Snow Brains, there were seven people in the Summit Building at the time of the avalanche. Three of the people in the building were killed, and three were found alive almost immediately. One woman named Anna Conrad was found alive after being buried in the snow for a total of five days. She was located by a trained search dog, a German Shepard named Bridget. It took a total of 117 hours for her to be found.
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The Sacramento Bee reported that Bridget actually tracked Conrad’s scent on the third day, but rescuers did not act upon it. Conrad explained that everyone except for her own parents and the handler assumed that she was dead. This led to a lack of urgency to find her, as nobody in the U.S. had survived an avalanche for the length of time she’d been missing. Luckily, Bridget picked up Allen’s scent once again on the fifth day. This led to rescuers digging through the debris and snow falling on a still-buried Allen. Allen grabbed the snow to put in her mouth, and that alerted the rescuers that someone was there.
Why The Alpine Meadows Avalanche Wasn’t The Ski Patrol’s Fault
A court found that all the loss was not caused by the ski patrol
The victims’ families ended up suing the Alpine Meadows ski area for wrongful death. The court brought in a number of avalanche consultants to answer questions about how well the ski patrol did with forecasting and performing the necessary control procedures. These consultants did not all share one opinion, with it being extremely split between the group and the community as a whole.
The jury deliberated for days on the case, given that it was extremely important in setting a precedent for future avalanche forecasting and control procedures throughout the U.S. It was ultimately ruled that it was not the ski patrol’s fault. It was found that they had done everything in their power to mitigate the danger, and nature had simply run its course. According to Outside, the court declared that it was an “unprecedented event resulting from an unprecedented storm.“
Plehn also spoke to the publication and shared that the decision was a very big moment for him. He explained that he didn’t feel like he and his team had made any mistakes, but it had dawned on him that the jury might not agree. The verdict was a healing moment for him, as it validated that he did the best he could and that the loss of life was not his fault. He also shared that it’s extremely difficult for him to think about the impacted families and that certain things will trigger hard memories for him during a heartfelt interview in Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche.
Sources: Rotten Tomatoes, Snow Brains, The Sacramento Bee, Outside