Beginning in April 2012, I conducted research for The New York Times’ multimedia narrative feature entitled Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. I am proud to be a small part of the team that produced the December 2012 story, which was written by John Branch.
I began researching the story by compiling multimedia narrative biographies of the people involved in the February 2012 avalanche, as well as creating chronologies of similar accidents near Stevens Pass, the history of the place itself and the rise of backcountry skiing. I requested the coroner’s reports for the three good men who died; to provide context, I interviewed people knowledgeable about backcountry skiing as an extreme sport and a retail industry.
Together, John and I hiked up through the spring salal and thick undergrowth at Tunnel Creek with a survivor of the tragedy; we interviewed avalanche and skiing experts and spent hours on the road going over what happened. While writing the story, John handled a wealth of reporting with grace and intelligence. I admire his methodology, which rests on approaching the story without judgment or preconceived notions.
The NYT published Snow Fall, which took John six months to report, as its own special section and launched a new partnership to sell the package as an e-book. The NYT then made the story, viewed online by more than 3 million people, a focus of its reading club, citing media reports hailing its creation as “‘truly fantastic,’ a ‘beautiful’ integration of video, photos, and graphics ‘that makes multimedia feel natural and useful,‘ the ‘best designed big Web story ever‘ and even ‘the future of Web storytelling’.”
It’s the kind of story I’ve been hoping to help produce since I was a multimedia fellow at UC Berkeley’s Knight Digital Media Center. Thank you to NYT deputy sports editor Jason Stallman for bringing me into the fold for Snow Fall. I’ll never forget it — or Chris Rudolph, Johnny Brenan and Jim Jack, men who lived life to the fullest until their final breaths.