‘4 the Boys’: The Tunnel Creek Avalanche, Five Years Later

Photo by Sam DeLong (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Seattle Met, Eva Holland talks to the survivors and explores the aftermath of the Tunnel Creek avalanche — the tragedy that inspired “Snow Fall” — five years after a massive snow slide claimed the lives of three men.

“The Boys,” in this small, ski-crazy community, is shorthand for three well-known, well-loved local men who were killed in an avalanche at Tunnel Creek, in the Stevens Pass backcountry, on February 19, 2012: Chris Rudolph, 30; Jim Jack, 46; and Johnny Brenan, 41. The men were part of a large group of visitors and local legends who ventured out of the resort gates late on a Sunday morning and were caught up in a massive snowslide.

Avalanches kill an average of 27 people in America every year. This one attracted the attention of the national media. Good Morning America and Today came calling, wanting to speak to the survivors just hours after the slide. Magazines, including Outside and Men’s Journal, published major features on the tragedy. And, most famously, The New York Times spent months producing “Snow Fall,” an ambitious, multimedia feature about the avalanche that would go on to redefine how stories are presented online. Written by John Branch, it won a Pulitzer Prize, spawned hundreds of imitators, and is now taught in journalism schools.

That’s when the snowpack on the hillside let go.

It shed more than 2,500 feet in altitude in a matter of seconds, gaining mass as it went, ripping up trees and rocks along the way and reaching a peak speed of about 70 miles per hour. The New York Times estimated its weight at 11 million pounds.

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