34 years ago ago today, the deadliest avalanche in U.S. history hit California's Sierra Mountains near Lake Tahoe.
Seven people lost their lives to the devastating snow storm, four people survived. One of them was Anna Allen. For five days she lived in the wreckage of the disaster before she was finally rescued.
On March 31, 1982, 22-year-old Allen was working at the Alpine Meadows ski resort as a lift operator. A storm had been swirling around the area for days.
"Temperature was probably close to freezing so it was a very wet snow storm," Allen told Take Two's A Martinez. "Visibility is maybe a few feet."
The harsh conditions had already forced the resort to close. Allen and her boyfriend Frank Yeatman were staying in her cabin, about a mile away from the Alpine Meadows ski resort.
"We just ... decided that it was important for us to go to Alpine Meadows to pick up my ski pants so that we could dig his car out which was buried by almost six feet of snow," Allen said.
The ski pants were in a locker room in the operations building of the resort. Allen and Yeatman made it there when disaster struck.
The avalanche thundered down the mountainside with the force of a 200-mile-per-hour wind. It blasted through the building that Allen and Yeatman were in. The force of the fast moving snow immediately knocked her unconscious.
"It caught me completely by surprise," said Allen.
She came to in the dark, buried and alone.
"It happened to be a spot where the lockers, when they were knocked over, fell on top of a bench and that held them up and created a small space," Allen recalls. "It was pitch black, I had no recollection of what I was doing, where I had been. I was cold, obviously. And I had horrible concussion."
Ironically, in the space that was shaped by an avalanche, Anna had trouble finding snow for sustenance. She was buried in mostly building debris.
" I was looking for any kind of water I could find. When I’d find something cold, I’d put it in my mouth. And the last few days ... just mud and dirt and grime, yucky. It was just disgusting."
Despite her injuries and dehydration, Allen never gave up hope of making it out alive.
" I knew that [the rescue team] would do everything they could to find me. And I had no reason not to keep living. I never questioned whether or not I was going to survive."
Five days after the avalanche, weather conditions finally stabilized. Rescue teams continued to dig through the wreckage to find Allen. They weren't expecting to find her alive.
"They called out ... 'Anna is that you?' My response was 'Of course it is!'"
After the rescue, Anna was immediately transported to a hospital in Truckee, California where she was reunited with her friends and family.
Her boyfriend Frank Yeatman didn’t survive.
While the doctors were able to save her life, Anna was left with a permanent reminder of the incident.
"I lost my right leg below the knee. On my left foot, I lost all my toes."
Allen was hospitalized for two months. But while she was there, she set a firm goal to ski again. She got some help with that just months after the accident.
"I had a call from a man who was an amputee and a prosthetist," she recalls. "He was building his own special leg for skiing and offered to build me one as well. I took him up on the offer. By the end of the year I was actually skiing better than before my accident."
34 years after the avalanche, Anna has had a lot of time to reflect on what happened.
"People were shocked that I survived, but in my mind I think anyone could have survived. I do think it's just a matter of having the confidence in yourself and the perseverance of everybody else. You can use that strength that people are pulling for you. Five days seems like a long time, but it's an okay time to be able to be by yourself."
Anna Allen is now in charge of the host program at Mammoth ski resort. When she’s able to get away from the desk job, you’ll see her out on the slopes.