Snowbound! is a picture book full of historical photographs along with a lot of good historical vignettes or snippets of history. It’s suitable for your coffee table (8 ½ X 11 format). If you live in the Sierra you understand what Mark is talking about and if you don’t you wonder, after wading through story after story and the amazing statistics, how anyone can live there.
Mr. McLaughlin has done a lot of research for this book as he’s done for all of his previous books (Donner Party Weather the Storm, From Longboards to the Olympics). One result of the research is the many historical photographs that he’s culled from various sources. Those includes old newspapers as well as simple pictures. Another result of all the research is the dozens of stories about ten selected Sierra winters. There is no flowing narrative in this book; rather it’s a collection of stories that go with each of the record-breaking winters starting with “Hell on the Hill,” 1880 and going to 2011, “La Niña’s Gift.”
“Low pressure gets me high” is one of Mark’s quotes and one can see why. Low pressure signals a storm. A “Battle for Donner Pass” begins in 1890 for example. An avalanche built up a 40 foot deep snowdrift. 12 bucker plows were pressed into service. There were 45 locomotives attached to the bucker plows. 1600 snow shovelers, mostly Chinese, were recruited to move snow. Drifts were 20 feet high. The fight raged for 40 miles. One caption (to the picture on the right or under the book's cover) said, “one wedge plow pushed by five engines took 36 hours to go only a few miles from Truckee until the train was abandoned by its crew, which hadn’t had any food for nearly two days.” One gets caught up in Mark’s excitement as one amazing storm event piles on another and one realizes why “low pressure gets me high.”
One also enjoys a lot of stories that go with the storms: learning about rotary snow plows, Nellie Bly being stopped by Sierra snow as she tried to beat Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, ski jumping in Berkeley, the coming of skiing and ski jumping, ice fishing in Donner Lake (which does not freeze anymore) the coming of the Truckee Ice Carnival, the opening of Old Highway 40 in winter, and even a 20 inch tall 5 lb. Woman on her way to San Francisco.