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NYTimes Long-Form Article: "Snowfall, The Avalanche At Tunnel Creek" by John Branch


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#1 DeJesus Built My Hotrod


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Posted 21 December 2012 - 11:10 PM

This six "chapter" or long-form NYT article by John Branch is the most remarkable piece of online journalism I have ever read. The author presents a balanced account of how 16 very experienced skiers and snowboarders got caught up in an avalanche on an out-of-bounds trail off the backside of Washington State's Stevens Pass last February. The subject matter is compelling in and of itself, however what elevates it to a riveting, must read story is the extensive "space" given to the story as well as the author's highly effective use of vivid graphics, pictures and video.

If you are a skier or a snowboarder, or if you are simply interested in excellent journalism using "new media", you should check this out. Its well worth the time investment.

Edited by DeJesus Built My Hotrod, 21 December 2012 - 11:11 PM.


#2 Jordu

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 11:16 PM

This six "chapter" or long-form NYT article by John Branch is the most remarkable piece of online journalism I have ever read. The author presents a balanced account of how 16 very experienced skiers and snowboarders got caught up in an avalanche on a trail off the backside of Washington State's Stevens Pass last February. The subject matter is compelling in and of itself, however what elevates it to a riveting, must read story is the extensive "space" given to the story as well as the author's highly effective use of vivid graphics, pictures and video.

If you are a skier or a snowboarder, or if you are simply interested in excellent journalism using "new media", you should check this out. Its well worth the time investment.


Seconded. This is the best piece of multimedia journalism I've ever seen. None of the multimedia is used just to sexy up the story -- every bit of it helps tell the story more powerfully.

The multimedia team at the NYTimes has really left the rest of us behind.

#3 Phil Plantier

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 09:02 AM

I agree that it is an amazing piece that feels like the future - seems to grasp the potential of the medium.

What I didn't like was the ending - it's pretty abrupt unless you pay $3 for the e-book with the epilogue.

#4 Tokyo Sox


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Posted 22 December 2012 - 09:41 AM

None of the multimedia is used just to sexy up the story -- every bit of it helps tell the story more powerfully.


Agreed. It paints such a complete picture of what happened. It's a tragic story, but a really amazing work of journalism.

EDIT: Was the epilogue any good? I didn't pony up.

Edited by Tokyo Sox, 22 December 2012 - 09:42 AM.


#5 Phil Plantier

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 10:53 AM

I didn't pay for it, but it did leave things a little unfulfilled... in a story like this, I wonder: who is still skiing? Is there more security? Has anyone changed procedures? The article felt like watching 80% of a movie and then being asked to pony up for the end.

#6 Pearl Wilson


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Posted 22 December 2012 - 11:25 AM

Thanks for linking that. So I read most of it and agree completely as to the quality of the piece.

I had a technical problem though. Clicking on the section entitled The Word Spreads or something like that - it crashed my machine twice. Did anyone else have this issue? I didn't read that section or anything following. I'm afraid to go back to it now. I guess I can send the link to work and access it there in a few days, but what did I miss?

#7 Tokyo Sox


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Posted 22 December 2012 - 11:30 AM

I had no technical issue with it. It's the most somber (and probably the shortest) part of the article. It features some pictures of the wives/gf's of the guys who died, a description of how they each learned of the tragedy, and a brief, emotional interview with Johnny Brenan's widow.

#8 B H Kim

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 05:48 PM

I agree that it's very well done, but it seems to me to be more of a stunt than a model for any future multi-media content. Very few other publications are likely to be willing to make the commitment of time, manpower and money required to create something like this. The future of online content is mobile, I.e., streamlined and more easily accessible than this piece.

#9 Moosbrugger

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 12:10 AM

I agree that it's very well done, but it seems to me to be more of a stunt than a model for any future multi-media content. Very few other publications are likely to be willing to make the commitment of time, manpower and money required to create something like this. The future of online content is mobile, I.e., streamlined and more easily accessible than this piece.



I was actually surprised to learn about the multi-media features because I had read the story on my phone. The story itself was interesting to me because those involved were real A-listers with plenty of experience and yet they were still swayed by some exuberant locals against their better judgement. The psychology of that moment is so strong that even the most capable are susceptible.

Edited by Moosbrugger, 24 December 2012 - 01:14 AM.


#10 Pearl Wilson


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Posted 24 December 2012 - 07:51 AM

I was actually surprised to learn about the multi-media features because I had read the story on my phone. The story itself was interesting to me because those involved were real A-listers with plenty of experience and yet they were still swayed by some exuberant locals against their better judgement. The psychology of that moment is so strong that even the most capable are susceptible.


As I interpreted it, the biggest problem of all was the route chosen by Rudolph (the Marketing guy). Some of the locals did not go that way (they went left and away from a known avalanche-prone area). Other locals followed Rudolph with some trepidation. The visiting heavies followed Rudolph because they trusted him and did not know any better. Rudolph was - apparently - not acting in an official capacity, but the article is fairly clear that the resort does actively promote ticket sales to those intending to ski the back side. Hosting industry leaders on a powder run is one good way to do that and is arguably within Rudolph's job description.

Being able to ski out of bounds from a lift served area really lowers the barrier to entry which normally would require more of a hike including observation and possible testing of the snow pack and some deliberation about the plan.

Edit: since my post is not so much about the media as it is about skiing, I cross-posted it in the skiing thread (General Sports).

Edited by Pearl Wilson, 24 December 2012 - 08:36 AM.


#11 Youkilis vs Wild

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:47 AM

I agree that it's very well done, but it seems to me to be more of a stunt than a model for any future multi-media content. Very few other publications are likely to be willing to make the commitment of time, manpower and money required to create something like this. The future of online content is mobile, I.e., streamlined and more easily accessible than this piece.


Well, of course not every piece can be as in-depth as this. Nor should it be. No need for this kind of a layout if I'm trying to find out what went on at the City Council meeting this afternoon. This sort of work, however, should be the goal for any kind of really long, storytelling sort of journalism -- especially something that tells a story over a period of a year or so. Basically, we're talking nonfiction e-book production from news media outlets; something like this for an end-of-season sort of thing for a given sports team or a campaign tell-all at the end of the year makes sense to me. I also see this sort of work as a viable a-la-carte revenue source for papers as well.

#12 Jordu

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 01:57 PM

Well, of course not every piece can be as in-depth as this. Nor should it be. No need for this kind of a layout if I'm trying to find out what went on at the City Council meeting this afternoon. This sort of work, however, should be the goal for any kind of really long, storytelling sort of journalism -- especially something that tells a story over a period of a year or so. Basically, we're talking nonfiction e-book production from news media outlets; something like this for an end-of-season sort of thing for a given sports team or a campaign tell-all at the end of the year makes sense to me. I also see this sort of work as a viable a-la-carte revenue source for papers as well.


What's been so disappointing to me since I got an iPad is how seldom multimedia is incorporated in e-books by publishers -- most e-books are text with some audio or slideshows attached. Not exactly taking advantage of all the tools available.





#13 MentalDisabldLst


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Posted 25 December 2012 - 12:40 AM

At first, I found the in-line graphics very annoying, since they interrupted any jumpy scrolling of the pages. But as I started reading fully, rather than jumping around, I started appreciating all the detail that entered the side panes as I scrolled by. The traced-and-highlighted routes of each skier were the best parts. The whole story kinda felt like a horror movie, though, where you know some people are going to die and you turn the "guessing of who it will be" into a bit of a soulless game.

My girlfriend, who very much wants me to avoid the backcountry when we hit Colorado in February, sent this article to me a few days ago. She also mentioned something interesting that I agree with: the biggest lesson here doesn't involve skiing, but rather more broadly the notion of "groupthink". There are a couple classic MBA case studies taught in leadership classes that deal with groupthink and its consequences and antidotes, and the names of those cases is sobering: the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the Bay of Pigs invasion, etc. This is clearly not in the same league as far as human impact and costs, but is similar when it comes to illustrating "bugs in the human brain software". In fact, I found it a much crisper example of groupthink because of the depth of specific, firsthand testimony from so many different participants, logs, photos - even GoPro videos.

#14 Tokyo Sox


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Posted 26 December 2012 - 12:02 AM

Yeah, groupthink indeed. Huge credit to the Dessert girl for knowing that maybe she wasn't necessarily out of her depth, but that it was just a bad idea. High EQ.

Your girlfriend sounds like a wet blanket. If you are good enough to be back there, go back there. Just be equipped and be smart, and either know the terrain or have a guide.

#15 epraz


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Posted 26 December 2012 - 04:16 AM

Your girlfriend sounds like a wet blanket. If you are good enough to be back there, go back there. Just be equipped and be smart, and either know the terrain or have a guide.


Yup, you should probably consider dumping her.

#16 MentalDisabldLst


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Posted 26 December 2012 - 11:06 AM

Your girlfriend sounds like a wet blanket. If you are good enough to be back there, go back there. Just be equipped and be smart, and either know the terrain or have a guide.


Well, in my case, I'm all about the glades (usually single-blacks), but generally don't feel the need to go off-map searching for even-better snow. Plus, I'm not equipped with all the stuff they've got, shovel, airbag and whatnot. That's a complicated proposition. I like privacy and good snow as much as the next guy on the slopes, but that's precisely why I head for the in-bounds glades.

Speaking of Groupthink, this also bears a strong resemblance to the 1996 Mt Everest disaster (from whence came Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air). HBS analysis of it here.


Yup, you should probably consider dumping her.


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#17 weeba

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 11:53 AM

Perhaps we can turn this into a longform thread?

Esquire reposted a 1986 Ted Williams article today:

http://www.esquire.c...l&src=longreads

#18 Bleedred

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 02:54 PM

Amazing article. Thanks for sharing

#19 Lose Remerswaal


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Posted 08 January 2013 - 05:39 PM

Perhaps we can turn this into a longform thread?

Esquire reposted a 1986 Ted Williams article today:

http://www.esquire.c...l&src=longreads

It's a great article, deserves it's own thread. Most folks who have already read the avalance article (or aren't interested in the avalanche article) won't be back in this thread again and will miss that one.



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