Writing Sample

"Avalanche" (Canadian Geographic, March/April 94, reprinted in Doctor's Review, and Ski Canada)

In mountainous Western Canada, avalanches are a fact of winter life, and among nature's most impressive phenomena. They may start with a "whoomph" as a weak layer in the snowpack fractures and shock waves shoot out across the slope. As if sliced by a knife, a crack opens across the top of the slope and a huge slab of snow is released. It slides down the hill, slowly at first, but soon picks up speed. The slab breaks into large blocks that begin tumbling and colliding, breaking up into smaller and smaller chunks as the slide accumulates, kicking up a cloud of swirling snow.

The slide accumulates more snow as it tumbles. Soon thousands of tonnes of rolling snow are thundering down the mountains at speeds up to 320 kilometers per hour. The sounds of avalanches have been described as hissing, as rumbling surf, and as the roar of a freight train. The slide can hit with an impact of 30 tonnes per square metre, shoving aside road graders or bridges and uprooting entire stands of trees. As the snow spills out onto the flat valley bottom, it finally comes to rest. The air is eerly still. Spectators remember to breathe again.

Skier Jennifer Eastwood remembers her strong gut feeling moments beforethe avalanche hit. She was on a high slope in the Battle Range, just south of Glacier National Park in British Columbia -- a dream come true for anyone who loves skiing deep powder. Suddenly, she became uneasy. "I didn't like the feel of the snow -- it seemed unstable, so I decided that I wasn't going to ski that day." It was March 6, 1993, the first day of her ski-touring holiday. The avalanche started 30 metres above her. She tried to get out of the way but was carried about 10 metres and buried under at least a metre of snow.

"My panic was very short; I was more angry with myself," she says."I knew I had to be really cool and calm to conserve oxygen. Fortunately one hand ended up by my face so I was able to make a little air pocket."

Eastwood was buried for about 18 minutes. "It was very peaceful and very quiet. I came to terms with the fact that this might be it for me." When rescuers found her, she was unconscious and blue but she quickly recovered, and walked away uninjured.

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