A new documentary is coming out this winter about a fatal avalanche at Alpine Meadows in 1982.
When filmmaker and book publicist Jared Drake moved to Alpine Meadows, California, he thought he knew what it was like to live in the mountains. He’d grown up on Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, a skier from a young age. But when he and his wife, Julia, moved to Tahoe from Los Angeles a number of years ago, it was an awakening moment.
“Tahoe was always the dream. Move to the mountains, ski every day. Sounds idyllic,” Drake says. “But learning the story of this place made me realize we’d moved to this crazy spot. What is this? Avalanches? Living in Alpine, you start to see more and more how ski patrol is affected on a daily basis and what they go through.”
Drake heard about a deadly avalanche that occurred inbounds at Alpine Meadows ski area, just up the road from where he lives, on March 31, 1982, a historically massive avalanche that occurred during a whopper of a Sierra storm. The ski resort had been closed for the day, shuttered due to extreme danger, but ski patrol and a few other resort employees remained at work on the mountain. It would take several days to learn exactly how many people were caught in the slide, but in the end, seven people were killed that day. There was but one miraculous survival story. Drake read the book, A Wall of White, about the accident, and started poring over everything he could find.
Eventually, in September 2018, he and his friend, Steven Siig, who owns the Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema, a movie theater in downtown Tahoe City, California, decided to make a film about the avalanche. They reached out to ski patrollers, mountain staff, survivors, and friends and family members who were involved in the 1982 accident.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t want to be involved. Some of the characters were on board, but many were hesitant,” Drake says. “Across the board, they had dealt with this incident, and many didn’t want to disrupt that process by being a part of the film. They are all still dealing with it. Some of them deal with it more privately than others.” Drake said he told potential subjects in the film: “This is your story as much as everyone’s. If you feel this is useful, or you’re interested in it, we welcome you. Everyone has a perspective, a personal story.”
The end result is a dramatic, thought-providing 90-minute documentary called “Buried”, which premiered in Telluride, Colorado, last May and showed at the Tahoe Art Haus in December. It is touring movie theaters this winter and spring, exactly 40 years after the avalanche, and will go to an online streaming service after that.
Flylow is supporting the theatrical film tour of “Buried.” “This is an important story about a ski area that Flylow’s team loves and skis at regularly,” says Flylow co-founder Dan Abrams, who lives in Tahoe. “We also wanted to get behind this project because it’s an important story about avalanche safety, about having respect for the mountains, and for appreciating the hard, tireless work that ski patrol everywhere puts in to keep us skiers safe.”
Increasing awareness about mountain safety is a main goal of the film. The film crew partnered with the American Avalanche Association to donate a portion of the proceeds from screenings to help keep people safe in avalanche country.
“We wanted to capture their stories because we felt like the story had never been told right, and we also wanted to use their story to increase awareness,” Drake says. “I hope people know that ski patrol is doing everything they can. They’re using all the tools available, but that only goes so far. Yes, there’s a science involved with avalanche safety, but at the end of the day, it’s a guessing game. They can only guess so well. Know that patrol is doing everything they can, but you’re also entitled to nothing. Keep your eyes open, look around. Make your own choices. This isn’t Disneyland.”
The film—which includes new interviews with subjects, archival photographs and footage from news coverage in the ’80s, and reenactments—has been years in the making. “We had already met and cried together with many of the subjects before we started filming,” Drake says. “By the time we got in the room, the conversation was already going.”
For those featured in the film, it’s a chance to reflect on what happened four decades ago and assess where they are now. “It’s the story that keeps resurfacing,” says “Buried” star Larry Heywood, who was the assistant ski patroller director at Alpine Meadows at the time of the avalanche and worked as the patrol director in the years that followed. “I always have concerns about accuracy, or about how things might be portrayed. But Siig and Jared did a great job with that. It’s very accurate. I think they covered the feel of the time.”
Find out when “Buried” is playing at a theater near you.