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A Wall of White: The True Story of Heroism and Survival in the Face of a Deadly Avalancheby Jennifer Woodlief
Synopses & Reviews
One of the most amazing survival stories ever told — journalist Jennifer Woodlief's gripping account of the deadliest ski-area avalanche in North American history and the woman who survived in the face of incalculable odds.
On the morning of March 31, 1982, the snow had already been falling at a record rate for four days at Alpine Meadows ski resort near Lake Tahoe, California. For the vacationers and employees at the resort, this day would change their lives forever.
The unprecedented avalanche that day at Alpine Meadows was a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe. Much like the nor'easter that bedeviled the fishermen in Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm, an unforeseeable confluence of natural events created the conditions for an unimaginable disaster — and, in one woman's case, an astonishing ordeal of survival.
Jennifer Woodlief movingly tells the story of the massive slab avalanche that killed seven and left one victim buried alive under the snow. In this freak event, millions of tons of snow roared into the ski area and beyond, engulfing unsuspecting vacationers as well as resort employees working in spite of the danger.
At the center of this wrenching tale of nature's fury are ski patrolman Larry Heywood and his team, who heroically fought with the help of a search-and-rescue dog to save a twenty-two-year-old woman trapped for five days underneath the suffocating snow — a tale of survival that is itself an exploration of the capacity of courage.
Written with all the suspense of a thriller, A Wall of White is an inspiring story of a group of strangers brought together by an inconceivable calamity — a testament to the unwavering dedication of a band of rebel rescuers, driven only by a commitment to saving lives, battling not just extreme conditions but seemingly impossible odds.
Being swept under by an avalanche is its own special hell. "A person caught in an avalanche is not floating in a wave but pounded in relentless surf, shaken like prey in the teeth of the mountain," writes Jennifer Woodlief in this chronicle of the March 31, 1982, avalanche near Lake Tahoe that killed seven and injured many more. The victim is often undone by the act of breathing itself, since exhaled... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) air "will initially melt the snow but then it will freeze," she explains, creating a seal of ice around the mouth. Unearthing someone from this deadly cocoon quickly is the key: The chances of a person being found alive 35 minutes after an avalanche are 30 percent, Woodlief reports; after two hours, they drop to around 3 percent. In early April 1982, rescuers at Alpine Meadows ski area beat those odds when, with the help of a particularly alert dog, they saved Anna Conrad, a ski-lift operator who had spent nearly five days in a small air-pocket amid the debris of a destroyed building. (Conrad lost part of her left foot and a portion of her right leg to frostbite but continues to ski and is now an advocate for disabled athletes.) Her dramatic rescue, and the avalanche that necessitated it, are the heart of "A Wall of White," but, unfortunately, the action doesn't break until the book is more than half over. That makes for a lot of anticipation. Woodlief, a former CIA case worker and the author of a biography of skier Bill Johnson, does an admirable job of building the tension by recreating the lives of those affected by the avalanche, but these stories are no match for the forces of nature that changed them forever. Nora Krug is The Washington Post Book World's monthly paperback columnist. Reviewed by Nora Krug, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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This thrilling true tale recounts the deadliest ski area avalanche in North American history and the woman who survived the snow in the face of incalculable odds. b&w photographs.
About the Author
Jennifer Woodlief is a former reporter for Sports Illustrated and the author of Ski to Die: The Bill Johnson Story. A graduate of Stanford University and the UCLA School of Law, she has prosecuted first-degree murder cases and worked as a case officer for the CIA.
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