Snowfall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

A six-part story, the “Snowfall” piece featured on nytimes.com goes into extraordinary depth about a tragic avalanche in the Washington Cascades. Graphics, video and animation line the page as the reader scrolls, providing visuals to aid in comprehension.

The first three parts of the story deal with the skiers themselves; their lives and backgrounds. All of them were prominent in the niche world of skiing, and many, including Elyse Saugstad, were visiting for a conference honoring female skiers.

Snow had pummeled the area at Steven’s Pass the previous night, and everyone in the group waited with anticipation to head to the slopes. Tunnel Creek was one of those local areas that few skiers were skilled enough to attempt. The risks associated with the slope were steep, and it was known that a high occurrence of avalanche characterized the area.

Despite misgivings about the weather and several warnings from the local weather service indicating a high risk of avalanche, the group of experienced skiers blew past the warning signs and tore down the mountain.

During the first three parts of the story, author John Branch leaves just enough detail lingering that the reader’s anxiety and curiosity are peaked. This is a very effective form of narrative journalism. The addition of multimedia enhanced this portion of the story by rooting it in place, rather than giving us a broad description of what the area looked like.

The following three portions of the story discuss the avalanche, rescue and aftermath. Profile pictures of the surviving family members and skiers evoke a profound sense of loss. Multimedia was able to enhance this story in a way that words alone would not have been able to.

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