A Cry for Help

Last Chair
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Last Chair

It was the sort of once-in-a-lifetime idea that only comes to you in the backcountry, when you're all hopped up on powder and running desperately low on effervescent malt beverages. Chapman Wilcox, a large-medium artist and the self-described "big thinker" of the group, had envisioned working on such an enormous canvas during a lengthy meditative episode ("I was pretty much high on post-powder endorphins," he says). But it took the combined efforts of the entire party to brainstorm such a succinct yet powerful message. Smoke 'em if you got 'em seemed too long, no one could remember how to spell Hefeweizen, and only Steve wanted to write Amy, take me back. Then the epiphany struck like a truckload of High Life.


An avalanche in Wolverine Bowl set off by a ski patrol bomb. Photo courtesy of Jim Plehn.On March 31, 1982, a massive avalanche tumbled down California’s Alpine Meadows, killing seven people in the most devastating slide ever to hit a ski resort. Why nobody has written a book about this until now is a mystery to us. But when California-based writer Jennifer Woodlief—a former lawyer, Sports Illustrated reporter, and author of a biography of skier Bill Johnson—stumbled across the now 28-year-old story, the book deal was inevitable. A Wall of White: The True Story of Heroism and Survival in the Face of a Deadly Avalanche, comes out in paperback this February.The story, much like the avalanche it documents, starts out slow, adding layers and building momentum. And then, suddenly, it comes crashing down. What Twilight novels are to teenage girls, A Wall of White is to skiers: an engaging tale with a heroic, made-for-Hollywood ending. (Woodlief is currently in negotiations to sell the story to a film studio.) It wasn’t all tragedy: A woman named Anna Conrad was rescued after spending five days buried in a building collapsed by the avalanche. To report the story, Woodlief conducted extensive interviews with the victims’ families, the rescuers, and the lone survivor. “The hardest part of it all,” Woodlief says, “was the initial reluctance of people to talk to me this long after the incident. I had to persuade them that I wasn’t going to exploit them or sensationalize what happened to them.” Sure, the cover and title are a bit dramatic, but the story inside is a painstakingly researched tale that’s been waiting to be told for nearly 30 years. [$25; awallofwhite.com]Click to the next slide for an interview with Woodlief and Conrad...

A Wall of White: A 1982 Avalanche Revisted

A new book tells the story of the deadliest avalanche in ski-resort history—which happened 28 years ago. We spoke to the book's author and the slide's lone survivor, a woman who spent five days buried in a building collapsed by the avalanche. By Megan Michelson.