It’s rare for web content of any significant length to get my undivided attention. Tweets, sure. Short blog posts, maybe. Articles longer than 200 words, forget it.
And then I found this: John Branch’s NYT piece on last year’s tragic avalanche at Steven’s Pass.
Multiple people led me to this article, all with different angles. A coworker who’s an avid skier, often in the backcountry at Stevens, shared it with a group of us skiers and boarders, impressed by the richness of the content. A writer friend sent it around as an example of long-form journalism at its finest. A few PNW friends were interested in the story of Chris Rudolph and the details surrounding the tragedy.
Snow Fall is brilliant. It’s a rich collection of narrative prose, video interviews, animated maps and weather models, photos past and present, and strikingly dynamic hero images. The whole thing just draws you in.
And still I couldn’t quite commit to sitting down and trudging through its entirety. Sunday night, long after my husband had fallen asleep and buoyed by a day-long Parks & Recreation marathon, I settled in and read.
I started on my MacBook, if only to watch the snow blowing across Cowboy Mountain, again and again. I spent nearly an hour pouring over the photos and videos. I listened to Elyse Saugstad recount her story, and learned about hoar frost in an animated look at the area’s snow composition that day. I matched faces to names and silently wondered who survived that day.
By the time I swapped laptop for tablet and climbed in bed, I was ready to read. And read, I did. And read and read and read. I didn’t stop until the following morning, when I finished the piece in a crowded coffee shop in White Center.
In Snow Fall, Branch does what I only aspire to do: evoke emotion.
As I moved through the piece, I was at the mercy of Branch’s words. Whether it was awe at the assembled greats, excitement at the prospect of skiing epic pow at Tunnel Creek, or despair, deep in my gut, at the looming reality of the avalanche, I felt it all.
Not only did the story make me feel something, it captured my complete and undivided attention. It didn’t matter if my dog was silently sleep-yipping beside me or if I was surrounded by people shouting their morning coffee orders—I heard nothing. Branch’s narrative had a strong hold on me. (And that’s no small feat. The daily content overload, digital and otherwise, has seriously damaged my attention span.)
Snow Fall stuck with me. It gave me something to aspire to. And it reminded me why I write and why I love working with such a smart, creative bunch of people.