35-Years Since Deadly Alpine Meadows, CA Avalanche

Claire Weiss |
Avalanche of similar size as in Alpine Meadows. Image credit: onlyinyourstate.com

“The blizzard had hit the Sierra Nevada the previous Saturday evening, and it had been snowing steadily—and hard—for the past four days. With two to three feet of new snow falling daily, by that Wednesday morning the storm had dumped nearly seven and a half feet of new snow on top of an existing 89-inch base.”

— A Wall of White, Jennifer Woodlief

Alpine Meadows avalanche 1982. Image credit: www.moonshineink.com

Thirty-five years ago, on March 31st, 1982 a large avalanche hit Alpine Meadows ski resort in California. It was snowing hard for 4 days and the resort was closed but there were still some people who had to report to work. Among them, there was Anna Conrad.

Not only did she survive the avalanche being trapped for 5 days in an air pocket near Alpine Meadows lodge, but she also began skiing again and teaching safety at Mammoth Mountain ski resort.

“I had absolutely no idea what had happened, it was so instantaneous,” recalls Anna. “I did a lot of sleeping and thinking about friends. I just kept telling myself I could do it, I could do it. They’d find me.”

–Anna Conrad

Seven people died in that avalanche.

On March 31, 1982, at 15:45 a large soft-slab natural avalanche released at Alpine Meadows Ski Area. The avalanche, releasing from the Buttress, Pond and Poma Rocks slide paths, swept down into the base area and parking lot of the ski area. The avalanche hit the Summit Chairlift Terminal building, the main ski lodge, several small buildings, and two chairlifts, and it buried the parking lot under 10 to 20 feet of snow. 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 sustained superficial damage, the two chairlifts were extensively damaged, and several small buildings were destroyed, as were several over-the-snow vehicles.

Of the seven people in the Summit Building at the time of the avalanche, three were killed. Three were recovered alive almost immediately, and one young woman was recovered alive after a five-day burial. Four people were buried in the parking lot and were killed. Altogether twelve people and one dog were victims of the avalanche. Seven of those twelve were killed. The dog survived a one-day burial. Total monetary loss was approximately 1.6 million dollars.

Larry Heywood, The Avalanche Review, VOL. 10, NO. 5, MARCH 1992


Avalanche area sign, Alpine meadows road. Image credit: tahoeskiworld.com

Alpine Meadows annually records the largest number of avalanches of any ski resort in the United States.

The season 2016-2017 is one of the biggest by historical snowfall recorded in the Sierra. There was a number of avalanches recorded in Lake Tahoe area that year. Springtime still poses the risk of snow slides, especially wet avalanches, so be careful out there.

Small avalanche seen at Alpine Meadows on March 25th, 2017. Photo credit: Claire Weiss

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