Buried – The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche is a documentary film from 2021 that tells the story of a massive avalanche. You can now watch this movie on various streaming services including Netflix.
Throughout history the mountains have had various meanings. In the Middle Ages, mountains were thought to be places where evil lurked and venturing into the mountains was a deal with the devil. Mountains were dark, mysterous places where ungodly people hid out. Since the sixteenth century, mountains have taken on a more sacred place in the Western imagination. By the nineteenth century, mountains were seen as a place to regain health and vigor. Fresh air. Clean water. A place to get away from the foul industrial urban centers. Even the tragic story of the Donner Party in 1847, a few miles from Alpine Meadows, did not slow this new sense of the healthful sacredness of the mountains. In many ways, this notion of the mountains being healthy and even sacred lives on today. To this end, there are hundreds of ski resorts high in the mountains of the American West, one of which is Alpine Meadows (now Palisades). Life is short. Drop a few thousand dollars for a weekend. Regain your health and even get a bit closer to God.
The people who live up in ski resorts are a fun-loving bunch. Few who live in the mountains are there for the money. Some enjoy the solitude and quiet. Some the never ending thrills of deep power snow. Some live for the scenic beauty. Other are there to escape something and get a new start. Some are there to endlessly party. Whatever the case, it a place where people’s main motivation is to live in the moment.
Buried – The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche tells that story of people living in the moment. It is a remarkable movie as the filmmakers somehow gathered one by one all the major people that were part of this event and had them candidly talk about the winter of 1982. The combination of these interviews, along with footage from the time, including local news reports tells the story in a very even, engaging way. You even get to watch San Francisco’s Channel 2 reporters, Dennis Richmond and Elaine Corral report on the tragic event – a time when the 6 o’clock news was the news.
This view into a time before the personal computer, cellphones and the internet is part of what makes the movie so intriguing. The ski patrol had only walkie-talkies and snowmobiles. Weather reports came over the weather radio. The young avalanche forecaster Jim Plehn used a system of large paper charts to map the snow densities and where they had used explosives or side-cut skiing to create avalanches. To this day, it is an inexact science that in the end requires more than paper, computer models and theories, but all your senses, experience and instinct.
As the film unfolds, the movie does an excellent job of telling the story of the avalanche and then for the rest of the movie the digging out of bodies and the hope for any survivors. Volunteers with shovels. A few specially trained avalanche dogs. All the while it is continuing to snow and the people in charge have no way of knowing if there will be another massive slide. The majority of the people dealing with this tragic event, the ski patrol were all people in their late twenties. Making critical life and death decisions at a very young age. Even in the hedonistic mountains, people grew up pretty fast back then.
Buried – The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche is an important film telling an important story that is critical part of the history of the American West. Watch it with a bowl of fresh popcorn and a cool beverage of your choice.
Well done. 5 stars.