The 1982 avalanche at Alpine Meadows, California, caused the deaths of seven individuals. The victims of the tragedy included tourists and employees of Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. Steven Siig and Jared Drake’s documentary film ‘Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche’ sheds light on these deaths using the recollections of the other employees who worked in the resort at the time and then-ski patrol officers. Due to the intense storm and snowfall, the rescue team had to struggle to find the dead bodies. The patrol officers not only had to put their lives on the line to conduct searches but also had to accept the deaths of people who were close to their hearts.
Frank Yeatman was the boyfriend of Anna Conrad, who worked as a lift operator at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. Before the avalanche hit the resort, Frank and Anna were staying in the latter’s cabin, which was situated around one mile away from her workplace. “We [Anna and Frank] just… decided that it was important for us to go to Alpine Meadows to pick up my ski pants so that we could dig his car out which was buried by almost six feet of snow,” Anna told KPCC’s Take Two concerning the intention behind going to the resort during a storm.
While Anna and Frank were in the building, the avalanche hit the same, burying both of them. Although Anna was saved by the rescue team five days ago, they could only find Frank’s lifeless body under the snow and debris.
Bernie Kingery was the mountain manager of Alpine Meadows. He was regarded as one of the nation’s best avalanche experts during his lifetime. Along with his responsibilities as a manager, he used to teach classes in avalanche control at a US Forest Service school. Right before the avalanche hit the resort, Bernie was talking to Lansworth Johnson through a phone call. Suddenly, the line went dead, alarming Johnson. Bernie was buried under the snow and debris after the avalanche hit the resort. “Bernie had always said if he had any way to go, he’d want to go in an avalanche,” said former ski patrol member John Monroe, as per UPI.
“Bernie was so full of energy. He was totally in love with the mountains. He was the big, strong mountain man,” Larry Heywood, who served as the assistant director of the ski patrol at the time, said in the documentary.
Jeffrey “Jake” Smith
Jeffrey “Jake” Smith was a trail crew member of Alpine Meadows. “Jake was assigned to be the upper road guard. Everybody loved Jake. I used to view Jake as the court jester on the crew,” Jim Plehn, the avalanche forecaster at the time, said about him in the documentary. Jake was the one who informed others about the avalanche. “We received a radio message from Jake, and it was garbled. All I heard was the word ‘avalanche.’ We got the impression he was seeing one and was about to get caught in it. Bernie asked for his location. He got no answer. About five seconds later the avalanche hit us,” one of the survivors said about him, as per Sports Illustrated Vault.
In 1985, the peak above Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe, near Bliss State Park, was named after Jake to honor his efforts to warn others concerning the avalanche. Jake’s Peak is currently a prominent skiing destination.
Beth Morrow, who was from Sparks, Nevada, was a lift operator at Alpine Meadows. She was at the resort with Bernie when the avalanche hit the building. She was preparing to document the avalanche control work that had been happening on the road with her manager. Her body was discovered along with Frank Yeatman’s near the Summit building of the resort, around a hundred feet away from her desk. Morrow was just twenty-two years old at the time of her death.
Leroy and Laura Nelson
The victims of the tragedy include Dr. Leroy “Bud” James Nelson and his eleven-year-old daughter Laura Nelson. An orthopedic surgeon from Eureka, California, Nelson was in the region with his family, which also included his wife Katie and son Eric. Leroy and Laura were walking to the lodge after leaving their snowbound rental homes to find an open restaurant within the resort before the avalanche hit them. According to witness statements, Leroy was killed by the avalanche while he was trying to save his daughter’s life.
Laura’s dead body was discovered in the parking lot. After their deaths, the Nelsons’ family sued the Alpine Meadows Ski Corporation seeking damages. However, a Superior Court jury based in Auburn ruled that the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort was not negligent in the deaths of Leroy and Laura.
David Hahn was a businessman from Los Altos, California. He was with Leroy and Laura and the three of them died together. Hahn’s family joined the Nelsons to sue the resort but the verdict, as mentioned above, favored the establishment rather than the families of the victims. “Alpine Meadows had a secret. It had a dirty little secret. It had avalanche danger and it wasn’t telling anybody,” Walter Walker, the lawyer who represented the Hahn family, said during the trial.