Almost 40 years to the date, a massive avalanche devastated California’s Alpine Meadows Ski Area in North Lake Tahoe, killing three people trapped inside of a ski lodge and sparing only one survivor.
That survivor, Anna Allen, has lived in Mammoth for nearly four decades.
At the time, no one buried under any such avalanche slide for any significant amount of time at a U.S. ski area had ever survived (see pages 8-9 for the full story of her rescue, penned by Mike McKenna for this newspaper back in 2009).
“Buried: 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche” is a feature-length documentary about the devastating 1982 avalanche, which is set to premiere in Mammoth on Wednesday, March 9.
The Sheet spoke with filmmakers Jared Drake and Steven Siig, as well as Anna Allen, to learn more about the project.
Steven Siig owns two businesses with his wife in the North Lake Tahoe area. He describes himself as very ingrained within his community. Teaming together with Jared Drake, who has an extensive background in film production, the two eventually created Realization Films.
The goal of Realization Films is to create films about the North Lake Tahoe community that would attract viewership from outside of the area. After getting locally financed, the duo set out to begin making a documentary about the 1982 avalanche.
One of the primary goals of the film is to document the history of the incident through the voices of those who lived through it.
“Our intent was to set this film in the history books. And I feel as though the history books now, and the new oral traditions now, are such that the ‘history books’ are actually films. So many people think that filmmakers just want to sensationalize a story like this, and that was not our intent. We really just wanted to document it all,” said Siig.
He went on: “This is such a raw, emotional story for our community. We were worried at first about whether people would want to sit down and talk to us about it,” said Siig. “But surprisingly, so many people did.”
According to filmmaker Jared Drake, a big challenge was deciding which stories to tell.
“Everyone in North Lake Tahoe who was here in 1982 has a memory and an experience from that event. To select just a handful of them was really difficult and kind of painful; the hardest part of all of this was that we couldn’t tell everybody’s story.”
The film crew decided to narrow in on the stories of the avalanche forecasters, ski patrollers, other emergency first-responders, and, of course, Anna Allen.
“We wanted to highlight all that ski patrol does that often isn’t talked about. We want to bring to light how hard they work, and how they don’t make much money; it’s really out of true passion, what they do. And nowadays, a lot of these hard working, good souls can’t afford to stay in our communities because they’re outpriced buying a home, and they can’t raise families here,” said Siig.
Jackson Hole Ski Patrol is now using the film to teach patrollers, both old and new, what to do in the event of an avalanche and other disasters.
But according to both Drake and Siig, the story is about much more than just avalanche emergency response.
“Anybody can sit down and make a documentary or a film. But you have to make it good – it has to stand on its own,” said Siig. “There are so many themes in this film; whether it’s hubris, tragedy, or healing. It’s cathartic, it teaches us something about a pioneering moment, teaches us about avalanche awareness, and beyond that, we touch on universal themes that we can all use outside of this specific story.”
They’ve already screened the film in various mountain towns as well as cities, including Austin and Los Angeles. However, the filmmakers are particularly excited about the film’s screening in Mammoth, which they view as a “sister” community to their own.
“I feel like Mammoth is going to relate to this more than any audience,” said Drake.
Mammoth, of course, is also home to the sole survivor of the tragedy, Anna Allen.
“Anna is straight up the toughest egg I’ve ever met. She’s such an inspiration and she’s been the silver lining in this entire story,” said Drake. “Without Anna being Anna, I’m not sure how the other subjects in the film would’ve endured these last 40 years. Although she’s the one who was buried underground, she’s ironically probably the only one who is not still buried by the event. She came out the strongest, and I still don’t know how to reconcile that, even now. I’m sure part of it is her personality- she’s a total badass – but also her healing process.”
Since The Sheet’s interview with Allen in 2009, she says that not much has changed aside from both of her children graduating from the Mammoth school system. She still works at Mammoth Mountain running the host program, trying to develop and expand guest services.
According to Allen, many people in Mammoth still don’t know what she has been through or why exactly she is missing a leg. She tries not to make a big deal of the experience.
“I like the story because it’s not all focused on me,” said Allen. “Instead, it’s focused on the story of what snow can do and what patrol needs to do to mitigate as much danger as possible when it comes to avalanches. It portrays the challenges and difficulties of working in that field very well. My survival is kind of the climax of the story, but the story isn’t about me,” she said.
She continued: “At 22 years old when I was buried in the avalanche, I had no idea at the time that that’s what caused me to be buried. I had no real understanding of what it meant to be in an area that had the dangers of avalanches and what they could do. It was beyond my common sense, because I hadn’t grown up in the mountains. So hopefully this film will be able to educate people on all of that,” said Allen.
There will be a large panel discussion at the end of the film, featuring avalanche forecasters, ski patrol members, the filmmakers, and a few subjects featured in the film, including Anna Allen.