The horrors of an avalanche (and the beauty of really amazing online journalism)

Now this is how you do multimedia.

At The New York Times, John Branch tells the amazing, terrifying story of 16 backcountry skiers and snowboarders caught in an avalanche in the Cascade mountains in February 2012. The article, by itself, is a must-read. But you should also take a look at the absolutely fantastic way that Branch and his editors put the online medium to good use — embedding interactive maps, photos that move like something out of Harry Potter, and more standard videos into a lovely, fluid design.

Alissa Walker, who pointed me toward this piece, said that she felt cold just reading it. And you really do get that feeling. All the elements of Branch's article are brought together in a way that enhances the urgency and amplifies your sense of experiencing somebody else's story. It's really, really, really fantastic.

Read the full story at The New York Times


  1. Read this over the weekend. Time well spent exploring ways to effectively present engaging content. However, using this “deep” methodology for this particular story seemed to border on the obsessive. The moral could’ve just as well been communicated in a single tweet: “Attention adrenaline junkies: don’t want to die in an avalanche? Don’t ski dangerous slopes.” Furthermore, I’m not entirely convinced this wasn’t paid-for in-part by the company which provided the “snow wings” survival gear.

    1. The NYT’s walls between editorial and advertising are some of the strongest you will find anywhere; I’m quite confident no such quid-pro-quo existed.

      And, yes, you could distill it down to that, in the same way Henry V can be distilled down to: “Wow, being a monarch is a lot of work.”

        1. I’ve made a note.

          Really, though, what was compelling about it for me was the story, not just the moral. I don’t do back-country skiing, so the moral is lost on me. :)

    2.  It reads like something that will appear as a book sometime soon, the way Into the Wild and Into Thin Air were adapted from magazine articles.

  2. Is it flashed based or run afoul of ad blocking?  Because I just get a blank white page. Unless of course that’s the joke, the entire story is that I’m already buried by an avalanche. 

    (I’m all for exploring new ways of delivering information, but perhaps they should have done some compatibility testing or at least tossed up an error message if I’m missing requirements)

    1. It’s not flash based. It does use some external assets that ad blockers can get in the way of (I had to turn on a couple of things in Ghostery).

      I’m 100% pro compatibility testing, but the NYT really can’t check every possible combination of plug-in blocker ever.

      1. the NYT really can’t check every possible combination of plug-in blocker ever

        Does anybody actually expect NYT to make sure their content is compatible with plugins specifically designed to strip out the ads that pay for the content?

        1. Ironically, it runs just fine with the ad delivery plugins blocked; for me, at least, it was all false-positives I had to enable.

    2. For me I could read the first part of the article (Tunnel Creek) but could not see any links indicating other parts.   I allowed in NoScript and saw absolutely nothing.  I allowed and now it appears that I see everything properly (videos, links, etc).

  3. I found it to be pretty annoying and contrived – similar to the feeling of being force fed bullet points in a power point presentation. It’s a lot of text as it is. To be halted at intervals to wait for some multimedia thing to load and then sit through is like a video game with interstitials that ruin the flow.

    The video and interactive pieces were all great, but it would be much better to give the reader a better set of options to view them now/later/never rather than force the reader to follow along at a given, slow, speed.

    1. I found it hard to read.  I’d be following text then all of a sudden it would stop and a large image would snap into place then it would weirdly scroll off the screen.  The use of fading in and out of images depending on where they were on the screen seemed like an unnecessary gimmick that distracted me.  There were also all sorts of sudden breaks for ads that made following the text frustrating.

  4. That is beautifully designed. Shame some seem to be missing it due to incompatible technology or, perhaps, mindset. It’s quite amazing.

    Viewing source, it’s testing for 5 different flavors of IE to drop javascript (which it’s using to load the moving graphics as mp4). Perhaps that’s the issue.

    It works fine in Chrome for me.

  5. I have to agree, the mix of video and context sensitive graphics is superb. I want to know why more articles aren’t done this way. If the NY Times does more articles this way I might give them money.

  6. I liked it but I found the animations distracting because they would start before I was done reading the text above.  I also wish that they clearly showed some boundary lines so I knew if I was watching the entire thing or needed to reposition the page.

  7. Not to be curmudgeonly but I see this as a gimmick. Text is easy to read. Video is easy to watch. There’s no need to force-feed it to us in some unholy PowerPoint-like mash-up of text and video. Sure, it’s pretty and all, but I liken it to experimental film: nice for exploring a medium, not so nice for expressing ideas clearly. If this is the future of the Gray Lady, give me a physical paper any day.

    1. But you aren’t force fed it. You have the choice to watch the extra bits or not. Or to watch them chronologically or not. Or to read the whole thing and then go back and watch the extra bits. I read it when it was published and approached it totally backwards. First I watched the 10-minute documentary. Then I read the article watching a couple of the animations. But by then I was so hooked that I re-read the article in its entirety and watched all of the mm bits.

  8. I enjoyed the article and the presentation. Worked perfectly on chrome.

    I have been inspired by the article for a day now! It did feel like future-now to me. Looking forward to more of this type of presentation and it maturing- perhaps have dedicated areas in the window for text and other media, to add a bit of uniformity?

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