Researchers looking into one of the theories behind the Dyatlov Pass incident, a 1959 unsolved mystery that saw nine hikers killed during an expedition into Russia’s Ural Mountains, drew inspiration from one unlikely source — Disney’s 2013 hit film “Frozen.”
John Gaume, head of Switzerland’s Snow Avalanche Simulation Laboratory, and Alexander Puzrin, an engineer at ETH Zürich, published the results of their findings last week in the paper “Mechanisms of slab avalanche release and impact in the Dyatlov Pass incident in 1959.”
Their research supports the prevailing theory that an avalanche was behind the death of the nine experienced hikers, who were found in a grisly, partially dressed state, with some suffering major skull damage, others missing eyes and one missing a tongue.
This was the explanation offered by the Russian government after it reopened the case in 2019, but skeptics have long argued that the injuries the hikers sustained were inconsistent with those of an avalanche, which normally cause asphyxiation.
Conspiracy theories — ranging from alien abductions to attacks by a Russian yeti — have surrounded the tragic incident over the years, but Gaume and Puzrin’s research suggests that a nature phenomenon known as a “slab avalanche” may have been responsible.
Slab avalanches occur when chunks of snow sitting atop a weaker snow layer crack apart and slide downwards, often reaching speeds of about 80 miles per hour after 6 seconds. They account for the majority of avalanche-related deaths in North America, but are relatively small. The paper suggests that the slabs that fell on the hikers may have been around 16 feet long.
In order to support this theory, Gaume constructed a computer simulation of a slab avalanche that was inspired by the animation of snow in “Frozen.” According to National Geographic, Gaume was impressed with the film’s depiction of snow and traveled to Hollywood to ask Disney animators about their animation process.
Afterwards, Gaume modified Disney’s animation code, combined it with data from vehicle crash tests conducted by General Motors, and crafted a model of how a slab avalanche might have descended upon the Dyatlov Pass hikers.
Ultimately, Gaume and Puzrin determined that the irregular topography of the mountain, cuts that the hikers had made into the snow to set up their tent and strong winds blowing through the region had set off a delayed slab avalanche, resulting in several of the injuries found on the bodies, like the skull trauma.
The missing eyes, tongue and undressed state of the corpses are currently unexplainable, though National Geographic’s report suggests that paradoxical undressing — a phenomenon where people dying of hypothermia will remove their clothes — as well as mountain scavengers might have been responsible.
“ ... We do not explain nor address other controversial elements surrounding the investigation such as ... the behavior of the hikers after leaving the tent, locations and states of bodies, etc,” the study states. “ ... We believe that this will always remain an intrinsic part of the Dyatlov Pass Mystery.”