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He immersed himself in all things avalanche, and the people who study them

Utah transplant Edward Power is the author of ‘Dragons in the Snow: Avalanche Detectives and the Race to beat Death in the Mountains’

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Edward Power, author of “Dragons in the Snow: Avalanche Detectives and the Race to Beat Death in the Mountains,” is photographed in Eden, Weber County, on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Five years ago, when Edward Power and his wife, Marguerite, retired to the Utah mountains to become self-described “ski bums,” he brought his curiosity with him.

It was a curiosity well-honed, shaped by his years as a young newspaper journalist with The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. He moved into management after his reporting days but never lost the mindset that asked who, what, when, where, how and why.

He and Marguerite settled into the Ogden Valley — about equidistant between Snowbasin and Powder Mountain — told their friends back East they could find them in a place called Eden, and as is often the case with newcomers who appreciate their awesomeness much more than the natives, could not stop staring at the mountains.

Ed was particularly intrigued by the early morning sounds of avalanche bombing that takes place at the resorts after sizeable snowstorms. 

“I’d heard it before, on vacation, but not like this, because now I was here full time,” he says. “And it just struck me, ‘Wow, I’m truly living in the mountains.’ My journalistic curiosity kicked in. Who are the people doing this? What are the techniques they’re using? How do they decide to bomb on certain days and not others? What potentially are the threats?”

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“Dragons in the Snow: Avalanche Detectives and the Race to Beat Death in the Mountains,” by Edward Power, is photographed in Eden, Weber County, on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

When he saw a flyer at a ski shop about an avalanche awareness course, he signed up.

Thus began his immersion into all things avalanche.

In a place where snowslides are as much a part of the landscape as Delicate Arch, Ed discovered there was no end of people to talk to and things to learn. He interviewed forecasters at the Utah Avalanche Center, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, engineers at Black Diamond, ski and snowboard makers, snow scientists, patrollers at the resorts, victims with firsthand accounts of being caught in avalanches.

He got his hands on a copy of Bruce Tremper’s “How to Stay Alive in Avalanche Terrain,” considered to be the definitive guide in avalanche safety. He learned all about probes, shovels, transmitters and cutting-edge gear, including the avalanche backpacks with air bags designed by the Black Diamond engineers. 

But he couldn’t find a book that humanized the subject; that described the fascinating people who choose to get in this line of work, who they are, what they’re like, what drives them, why they do what they do.

So he wrote one.

It’s called “Dragons in the Snow: Avalanche Detectives and the Race to Beat Death in the Mountains.”

He used as a focal point a January 2017 “storm dragon” that began in the Gulf of Alaska and picked up steam until it reached Utah and dumped 5 feet of fresh snow in the Wasatch and the Uintas. At a remote Uintas peak, at the height of the storm, a snowboarder on a snowcat excursion decided to drop in and test the stability of a 36-degree slope. The massive avalanche he triggered abruptly chased him down, plowed him into a tree like a ragdoll, broke both his legs, and sent him to the hospital in a Life Flight helicopter.

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Edward Power’s research for “Dragons in the Snow: Avalanche Detectives and the Race to Beat Death in the Mountains” is stacked up in his office in Eden, Weber County, on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

That drama allowed Ed to introduce the snowboarder, his rescuers, avalanche forecaster Craig Gordon — who becomes a main and recurring character in the narrative — and all the other compelling characters his research uncovered. Complete with back stories.

It took him three years to get it all down on paper. He finished his manuscript in early March 2020. A week later, COVID-19 hit.

It was not the best of times for a book launch, especially for a first-time author. He couldn’t do book signings, he couldn’t give live presentations, he couldn’t go on tour.

But his publisher, Mountaineers Books in Seattle, could submit Ed’s work to the National Outdoor Board Awards for consideration.

In November of 2020 he received word that “Dragons in the Snow” was named Book of the Year in the literature category.

“Told in a captivating, novelistic style … it’s an exceptionally well done book, one that holds your interest while at the same time, offering important, and possibly life saving, lessons on avalanche safety,” the citation reads. 

“In the end,” Ed says, “what I wanted to do was not just communicate and write about avalanche safety and snow science and those things that are obviously key pieces you’d want in a book like this, but I wanted to communicate to people who don’t live in the mountains and don’t participate in the mountains what the lifestyle is like, what the love of the mountains can be like, and hopefully convey the beauty that we get from living in this place.”

He still stares at the mountains from his front porch in Eden. The newness hasn’t worn off and never will.

“But now I have even more reverence for the mountains and for skiing and particularly for the backcountry. Because you know it’s dangerous, it’s not for the faint of heart, and you need to understand how you need to prepare for it. If you’re going into the backcountry and you’re fooling around, the day will come that you will pay something for it. You might not get killed, but you will get hurt. People ask if I’m afraid now that I’ve learned so much. I am not afraid. I am just very respectful of the backcountry.”