PUBLISHED: 12:11 PM on Wednesday, November 23, 2005
'Snowstruck' an avalanche of a good read

Want to make a lifelong Southerner laugh?

It's really very easy. Call 'em up, say that the temperature's 10 degrees outside and there's twenty inches of snow on the ground.

You may hear a slightly shocked silence, followed by snorting laughter.

Those of us who are used to snow, go to the mall when there's twenty inches of it on the ground. That's why they make snow plows, right? Conversely, a few deep-South Southerners I know stay home when the white stuff is casually mentioned in the weather forecast.

Maybe, though, they have a point. Snow can be fun, but it can also be deadly. What you read about in "Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches" by Jill Fredston may make your blood may run cold.

When Jill Fredston graduated from college and headed for Alaska in 1982, she went with a master's degree in polar studies and ice and a desire to find a job that put her love of the outdoors to use. Within a short time, she was hired to be the director of the Alaska Avalanche Forecast Center.

The problem was, she knew very little about avalanches.

Acknowledging this, she sought out someone who would teach her what she needed to know. She found Doug Fesler, a New Englander via Illinois, who had come to Alaska decades before and had taught himself about avalanches by meticulously studying them. Fesler and Fredston became friends, then colleagues, then man and wife.

In this book, Fredston writes about many of the avalanches she remembers and a few she'd rather forget. She tells stories of people who were buried under snow and survived, and stories of people who lost their lives beneath avalanches of over a billion pounds of snow.

Avalanches, Fredston says, are not the lovely blankets of white that poetry would lead you to believe; they're created by layers of different kinds of snow that work with or against the layer beneath or above it. Weather, wind, and disturbances such as human weight have much to do with avalanches; loud sound - despite what movies tell us - does not. Fredston says there are clues to an avalanche-to-be and there are safety classes available that can help you spot the warning signs. Despite that, many people choose to look the other way and hope that they're not going to get caught.

When you pick up this book to read it, you're going to want to grab your parka, too. That's because author Jill Fredston is so descriptive that you'll be able to hear the wind howl and the snow blow, no matter what it's like outside your window. This book is part science, part biography, part adventure, a little history, and completely exciting. More importantly, "Snowstruck" may save someone's life with the warnings that Fredston so subtly weaves in between her stories.

If you or someone you know is an outdoor enthusiast, "Snowstruck" is a must-read. When it comes to an avalanche, this book could give you a lot more than a Snowball's Chance of surviving.