Reality check

The teaser trailer had been tempting us for weeks as it flashed over our small black and white screen after episodes of “Land of the Lost,” “Lawrence Welk” and “Dukes of Hazzard.”

“A winter wonderland becomes a nightmare of destruction!” the announcer would proclaim in sinister tones. The frame would then shifted from an idyllic ski lodge setting (just north of Durango, believe it or not) to a realm ruled by the white death. “Six million tons of icy terror!” the bodiless voice would cry out as a sea of snow flowed into Tamarron’s main lobby.

It was “Avalanche – the Movie,” and the pulpy picture was actually a highlight when I was a 7-year-old growing up not far from the set with just two channels on the dial.

Roger Corman, the man who brought us such delights as “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “A Bucket of Blood,” birthed “Avalanche” onto the silver screen. He also dragged Hollywood to Durango in the late 1970s. After scouting 30 other resorts, he chose Tamarron, liking it so much that the script was altered to include the “T” word. Corman then went on to defy Mother Nature and imported thousands of tons of #32 artificial snow from Hollywood to act as the film’s real star.

In second position was an aging Rock Hudson, who played the part of ski resort mogul and developer extraordinaire. In the film, Hudson has built a Shangri-La in the Rockies. In the process, he’s taken a serious toll on his surroundings (hmmm, déjà vu?) but brushes off warnings that his excessive timbering has created slope instability and slide paths. Instead, he forges ahead to the resort’s grand opening and invites his ex-wife, played by Mia Farrow, in hopes of a little high-altitude hot tub reunification. Farrow brings her new nature-boy fling, ably acted by Robert Forster, and a wicked love triangle ensues. Rock gets a glass of OJ delivered to the hot tub by his naked secretary as Forster detonates explosives above the lodge to create “controlled avalanches.” Six million tons of California styrofoam cut loose, fill cabins, clog pools and Jacuzzis, wipe out snowmobilers and then destroy half of Tamarron and its guests before the credits roll. Not bad fare for a 6-year-old, but most of you now know why you’ve never even heard of “Avalanche.”

OK, let’s fast-forward 30 years to the day. The Rock is no more. Mia is still fighting with Woody for custody of their adopted Asian daughter, and Hollywood has come back to the San Juans with Styrofoam on the brain.

One of the creators of the reality TV show “Survivor” had his scouts scouring the local mountains just two weeks ago. Like Corman all those years ago, Pilgrim Films and Television of Los Angeles has come to the region with hopes of finding white gold. According to a report in the Standard & the Miner, a crew spent the weekend at Silverton Mountain Ski Area filming a “presentation reel.” Presentation reels grow up to become pilots, and pilots mature into full-blown series. Pilgrim wouldn’t cop to their subject matter, but the Silverton rumor mill revealed that Hollywood has plans for a reality TV series on avalanche control.

You can almost hear the lead in: “A winter wonderland becomes a nightmare of destruction, as six million tons of icy terror come down the mountain! The enemy is one of nature’s strongest forces, and with safety on the line, the crew of ‘Avalanche Control’ must use their wits, their collapsible shovels and the fabled Rusch Block to keep white death at bay. In this first season, our cameras go behind the scenes and into the San Juan Mountains as we explore one of the deadliest jobs in the world!”

Yep, the masterminds who brought us “Southern Steel,” “Girl Meets Cowboy” and “Dirty Jobs” are currently “shopping” the reel around Los Angeles. If all goes as planned, filming could begin in the mountains around Silverton as early as this winter.

Having tasted a little dose of avalanche reality, I can tell you that “Girl Meets Cowboy” was the last thing on my mind when my personal slide path ripped back in the mid-1990s. Somewhere around the third of that season’s first turns, the fracture line appeared and the slope exploded. After quick looks in either direction, I realized that I was stuck deep in its middle of mammoth soft slab avalanche and beginning to accelerate past my surroundings.

Avoidance and precaution (including the fabled Rusch Block) had failed, and during the course of the slide, avalanche theory was replaced by the simplest kind of human struggle. Looking back, I don’t know if my relatively meek efforts or basic luck kept me on top of the slide. I do know that I was outmatched both before and during the event.

And the truth is that I’m especially grateful that the cameras weren’t rolling for my personal episode. Some things are just better left off the screen. But a fresh-squeezed, naked Jacuzzi scene? I’d be happy to discuss that with the good folks at Pilgrim.

– Will Sands