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Devil's Pass & Avalanches

Ghouls discuss the found footage conspiracy film, Devil's Pass which attempts to solve the Dyatlov Pass Incident in a rather creative and annoying way (and gives found footage films a bad name). Ghouls also solve the Dyatlov Pass Incident using weather science! This film is barely about avalanches but this episode is very much about them.

Sources in episode:


Media from this week's episode:

Devil's Pass (2013) Director: Renny Harlin

Summary by IMDB: A group of students go to the location of the infamous Dyatlov (die-at-lov) pass incident to make a documentary, but things take a turn for the worse as the secret of what happened there is revealed.


Devil's Pass: Blair Witch Project in the Snow

Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

This movie makes me really hate that I went to film school. This is what people think of when I tell them my degree. Technically, I was in media which is broader and mostly because I disliked my fellow students when I was a film student. They are all like this.

Also, this film gives found footage films a bad name. Found footage films need to explain within the narrative the reason for having cameras present. Further, they need to explain why the footage is decent enough for film quality. In many films, the excuse is “film students want to get to the bottom of something.” which is silly because why them? The Dyatlov Pass Incident has been a mystery forever and these kids are like, “WE are the ones who will solve it. Has to be us.” There are many amazing found footage films that feature the film crew as integral characters not just the subjects such as The Last Exorcism, REC, Creep, and the Bay. Found Footage horror is my favorite subgenre so I can go on forever about how great they can be when they’re done well. This film is not that. Reading it and seeing the trailer, I was assuming it’d be another The Descent but in snow. Sadly, it is not.

Does it accurately represent the horrors of a natural disaster?

Lol no?? The avalanche actually plays little to no part in this film which is funny considering the “mystery” they are looking to solve in their documentary was actually caused by an avalanche. However, something interesting about the avalanche in the film is that it is *spoilers* triggered on purpose! The natural disaster was actually used as a weapon to hurt these nosey and intolerable Americans. So I did some digging to see if humans can cause avalanches. In a quick google search, I came to an alarming response thanks to which says, “In 90 percent of avalanche accidents, the victim or someone in the victim's party triggers the avalanche.” So cool. Skiing is not in my future plans any longer.

According to the Mountain Rescue Services actually trigger controlled avalanches on purpose and for good reasons. In an article titled, Controlled avalanches, why do mountain rescue services set them off and how?, they explain why “A key reason for triggering these avalanches is, strangely, for safety reasons. What happens is that mountain rescue will often trigger small, controlled avalanches in order to prevent larger ones from occurring. Mountain towns, railway lines, and ski resorts where avalanches pose a risk to life will often see and hear explosive charges used to cause smaller avalanches.” You can have a little avalanche as a treat.

How do they cause avalanches on purpose? According to this article, they use explosive charges. These are triggered usually in predetermined areas via Helicopter, Gazex Cannons or Metal pipes fixed to the side of the mountains on high-risk slopes. And if you’re wondering what a Gazex Cannon is, they are large pipes facing downwards which emit hot gases at vulnerable slopes to set off small controlled avalanches.

So even though the Russians in this film are certainly not causing these controlled avalanches to protect neighboring towns, they are attempting to protect humanity from this terrible film. Honestly, they’re the real heroes.

What is this film trying to teach us about humanity?

Though it barely touches upon real avalanches, I will say that it represents humanity pretty spot on! People often flock to the scene of crimes or disasters to cover it (for fame) and neglect all the warning signs. They fail to acknowledge that people literally died here and deserve some respect. The other disaster loosely covered in this film is that of the Dyatlov Pass Incident which we covered in our snow episode along with the Donner Party and the film, Frozen (no, not that one). Warning but they show the literal dead bodies of real human beings in the beginning of this film that really surprised me. I wasn’t prepared and it was not cool.

But here’s a rundown of the Dyatlov Pass incident (named for one of the members):

On February 2, 1959, a group of 9 college student ski hikers died in the Ural Mountains of western Russia under mysterious circumstances. They were traveling from Sverdlovsk (now called Yekaterinburg) in January. According to an article in the Atlantic titled, The Russian Conspiracy Theory That Won’t Die by Alec Luhn,

They planned to ski about 200 miles over 16 days, summiting several peaks along the way, allowing enough time to be back for the spring semester. After catching a lift with some lumberjacks and following a sleigh driver north, the group skied out of an abandoned village on January 28, eventually making it to their final campsite on February 1. Searchers later found their tracks along a frozen river, and, upon reaching Dead Mountain, stumbled across a half-collapsed tent on a steep, windswept slope. Inside, food supplies and outer clothing were laid out, as if the group had been about to cook dinner. Nine pairs of boots stood along one wall. Bizarrely, the tent appeared to have been slashed open—from within.

All of the victims were found wearing little clothing and no shoes; two of the hikers had fractured skulls, and another two cracked ribs, but in no case was there any external injury; one of the corpses was missing its tongue. The hikers had fled from their tents in the middle of the night, cutting their way out from the inside and at some point had removed their clothing. Also one of them had a larger-than-expected amount of radiation on them. They actually didn’t even find all of the bodies until after the snow started to thaw which only further complicated the investigation.

Theories behind the incident range from psuedo-science, real science and paranormal conspiracy. Kat went through quite a lot of them in our episode but here’s: “paradoxical undressing,” - scoffed at in the film, is a real occurrence that happens when people experience hypothermia. In fact, I mention some of the strange behavior that a member of the Donner Party exhibited after experiencing hypothermia that resembles the theories!

There’s also government cover up conspiracies (explored in this film), and of course, aliens and yetis! I once listened to a podcast that explained away their behavior because of high-pitched sound that avalanches activate? The balls of light mentioned and scene in the film were actually reported significantly after the incident and are unrelated. It’s not aliens. Probably.

However, the film only briefly touches on the actual incident. Instead, leaning heavily into the “film-students-are-the-only-ones-who-can-get-to-the-bottom-of-it trope and showing local enthusiasm and more understandable, resistance to these foreigners traipsing around crime scenes. In an article on the AV Club titled, Devil's Pass Mike D’Angelo sums up my feelings of disappointment after watching a film that promoted itself heavily in relation to the incident, Here’s the trouble: Devil’s Pass isn’t actually about the Dyatlov Pass Incident. It’s about five blandly good-looking American kids who decide to make a documentary about the Dyatlov Pass Incident but subsequently disappear in the same area, leaving behind—sigh—their camera equipment.

D’Angelo goes on to complain, reasonably, about the film's similarities to The Blair Witch Project which is a found-footage film near and dear to my heart. There’s footprints in the snow left in the middle of the night by someone/something unknown only to be discovered in the morning. There’s the female director spearheading the adventure. There’s the crying and sobbing shot at the end when all hope is lost. There’s the very fun website, Conspira-leaks that released the footage! The thing about Blair Witch Project though, is that it had phenomenal marketing and was kickstarting a unique, subgenre of horror. Devil’s Pass is one of many and it offers nothing new to the genre. It’s “twist” ending was lackluster. Whenever you bring time travel/dimensions into a narrative in the end, you fail your viewers. The monsters were silly and I still don’t understand why they were afraid of the chains she was throwing around? The characters were all tropes without any character. They are all british playing americans and you can hear it clearly when they occasionally drop the accent. What I’m saying is that it’s bad.


Horrors of Avalanches: Let's Play "Avalanche, Boulder, Tree"

Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

What is an Avalanche?

Avalanches are masses of snow, ice, and rocks that fall rapidly down a mountainside. They can be deadly.

What to do in an Avalanche?

A horrifying prospect, and a very clear deterrent from snow adventures. If you dare to do it, here are the steps to take if you were to find yourself in the situation of snow murder. According to travel and leisure’s article What to Do if You’re Caught in the Path of an Avalanche written by Elizabeth Preske this list comes with 6 easy steps you can take. I have added my own thoughts to the list for your safety and enjoyment.

  1. On the list is Move to the Side -

    1. YOU CANNOT OUTRUN SNOW MURDER. Instead of insulting mother nature by trying to beat it in a race, you should run perpendicularly to the path of the incoming snow and get out of the way.

    2. In the event that the avalanche begins beneath your feet (which can happen when skiing or snowboarding), act quickly and try to jump upslope, above the fracture line.

  2. Grab Something Sturdy

    1. A twist on the classic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, comes Avalanche, Boulder, Tree - Only one will win. Depending on the strength of the avalanche, boulders or trees might be strong enough to hold their ground. Holding on to one of these might keep you above the snow, and also keep you from moving down the mountain.

  3. Swim

    1. Try to mimic the snow's violent onslaught by thrashing violently yourself to stay on top of the snow. Staying on top will keep you from being buried under mounds of snow and debris.

  4. Hold One Arm Up

    1. You should also try to reach one arm up so that, if you do get buried, you can give your rescue team a literal hand in helping find you.

  5. Create Room to Breathe

    1. Most avalanche-related fatalities are caused by asphyxiation. If you're caught in an avalanche, take your hands and cup them over your mouth while you're still moving. According to The Clymb, doing this will "create a small pocket of air for you to survive on for up to 30 minutes." The adventure travel site also suggests digging out some space around your face to get extra breathing room when the avalanche is over. "Expanding your chest by filling your lungs with air" will also achieve the same effect.

  6. Stay Calm

    1. You might understandably have the urge to panic, but it's of the utmost importance that you don't, Mental Floss notes. If you panic, your breath will quicken and you'll fill what little space you have with too much carbon dioxide, thereby shortening that 30-minute survival window. Try to breathe as steadily as you can so the rescue team has as much time as possible to come find you.

And my additional #7. DON’T GO ON SNOWY MOUNTAINS?!?!

Avalanches are terrifying why?

Much like Tsunami’s, Avalanches are scary in their suddenness. Their unexpected and deadly nature. They can be easily avoided though, by not going places covered in snow..

What Happened in the Dyatlov Pass Incident?

Dyatlov Pass Incident - solved

The Dyatlov Pass incident has recently been “solved” (not 100% but probably), to the best of science's abilities. I thank Smithsonian Magazine’s article, Have Scientists Finally Unraveled the 60-Year Mystery Surrounding Nine Russian Hikers’ Deaths? written by Meilan Solly for the information I will be sharing. The article argues there’s a perfectly good, non-conspiracy theory explanation for the incident that we can apparently thank both the Disney film “Frozen” for, as well as two individuals named Johan Gaume and Alexander Puzrin for. They state plainly that “We do not claim to have solved the Dyatlov Pass mystery, as no one survived to tell the story,” lead author Johan Gaume, head of the Snow and Avalanche Simulation Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, tells Live Science’s Brandon Specktor. "But we show the plausibility of the avalanche hypothesis [for the first time]."

In the research that unfolded, National Geographic researchers Gaume and Puzrin used the animation code for snow from the 2013 Disney film, to create a simulation tool that could mimic the conditions from the incident. This data matched with the data from cadaver tests conducted by General Motors in the 1970s, helped determine what happened to the human body when struck at different speeds allowed for them to figure out how an avalanche could cause the injuries shown in the incident.

The authors of the study, Gaume and Puzrin, used historical records to recreate the mountain’s environment on the night of the Dyatlov incident and attempted to address these seeming inconsistencies. Then, the scientists write in the study, they simulated a slab avalanche, drawing on snow friction data and local topography (which revealed that the slope wasn’t actually as shallow as it had seemed) to prove that a small snowslide could have swept through the area while leaving few traces behind. The authors theorize that katabatic winds, or fast-flowing funnels of air propelled by the force of gravity, transported snow down the mountain to the campsite.

“If they hadn’t made a cut in the slope, nothing would have happened,” says Puzrin in a statement. “[But] at a certain point, a crack could have formed and propagated, causing the snow slab to release.”

The resulting research was able to show that heavy blocks of solid snow could have landed on the hikers as they slept, crushing their bones and causing injuries not typically associated with avalanches. If this was the case, the pair posits, those who had sustained less serious blows likely dragged their injured companions out of the tent in hopes of saving their lives.

Some people are still skeptical of this research, questioning why the hikers ran into the snow without their clothes. If the snow landed on them while they were sleeping, it would make sense that they would not be fully clothed IMO.


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