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Without a sound, the pristine field of snow gave way, breaking apart like cracked glass. It raced down the mountain at seventy miles per hour, unearthing boulders, snapping old-growth trees, and shredding bark from the trunks.

It also collected bodies.

When sixteen of the country's best skiers and snowboarders headed to a renowned out-of-bounds ski area in Washington State on February 19, 2012, they were aware of the high risk posed by avalanches. Still, they took the deadly gamble—and lost. As acclaimed "New York Times" reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist John Branch writes in this harrowing tale of disaster and survival, "the very thing the skiers and snowboarders had sought—fresh, soft snow—instantly became the enemy." In less than a minute, Tunnel Creek turned from a playground into an icy tomb.

Like the adventure classics "Into Thin Air" and "The Perfect Storm," Branch's story of the Tunnel Creek avalanche follows the seemingly innocuous events and missteps that carried the victims ever closer to tragedy. By the time the group arrived on the mountaintop, the sense of foreboding was palpable. Unlike a storm, however, an avalanche gives no warning. What slight movement could have triggered the massive slide? It's impossible to say. With horrifying detail, Branch describes the feeling of being swept away and then buried by tons of snow and ice. Miraculously, some survived. Others didn't, and Branch paints wrenching portraits of those vibrant men who would never return home.

Recognized as a master storyteller with keen insight into those who are drawn to risk, John Branch delivers a pulse-pounding story that will forever change the way we look at so-called peaceful snowy landscapes.


John Branch is a sports reporter for "The New York Times." He has covered stories big and small, from the Super Bowl and the Olympics to lumberjacking and horseshoes championships. His 2011 story "Punched Out," on the life and death of hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in the San Francisco area with his wife and two children.

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