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Media Life: Foresthill Bridge losing its stature to China spans

New, higher U.S. bridge also on the way; “Auburn” photo-book author Arthur Sommers focuses on wider Placer County angle; 1982 Alpine Meadows avalanche disaster gets book treatment
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It’s one of the highest bridges in the U.S. and the world. And it’s a point of pride for area residents. But the Foresthill Bridge, alas, is shrinking in stature – both on the global and national stage. The Auburn area’s ginormous green giant – 730 feet in height and deemed by experts the second highest span in the world when completed in 1973 – is now just an afterthought in international bridge rankings compiled by Los Angelino Eric Sakowski at Web site HighestBridges.com. Media Life first came into contact with Sakowski five years ago, when he was initially compiling information for the Web site. Even then, he had started to amass a comprehensive set of facts on bridges around the world – and some eye-popping revelations about the engineering feats that were beginning to take place in the mountains of China. China leading the way Eight of the Sakowski’s Top 10 list of highest bridges built or being built are located in China, with the Siduhe River Bridge – at a mind-boggling 1,550 feet high – leading the list. To put the three-month-old bridge into perspective, it’s more than twice the height of the Foresthill span and 595 feet higher than the Royal Gorge Bridge, which is the highest in the U.S. To put the Siduhe River Bridge into even more perspective, it’s the only one in the world where a person – we’ll say a BASE jumper – can jump from the deck and reach terminal velocity, Sakowski said. That’s the speed falling objects no longer accelerate. Nationally, the Foresthill bridge has ranked third highest for many years – behind the 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia and the 955-foot-high Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. The bridge will be nudged out of its Top 3 spot by the soon-to-open Mike O’Callahan-Pat Tilman Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River at the Hoover Dam. The bypass bridge at Boulder City, Nevada is 890 feet high. That will leave the Foresthill Bridge at No. 4 in the U.S. on the HighestBridges.com Web site. By the time all the higher bridges under construction are built in 2015 and, including the debatable choice of the 740-foot-high Grand Canyon Skywalk, the bridge near Auburn will be ranked a still-lofty No. 24 worldwide. While time and tide have tarnished the bridge’s celebrity luster, it continues to be an awe-inspiring span and an engineering wonder the Auburn area can justly be proud of. And there still is one No. 1 ranking that it’s retained. The Foresthill Bridge is still the highest span in California. And that’s something to marvel about. Placer pictures published Arcadia Publishing and Auburn historical postcard collector Arthur Sommers have teamed up again to produce another book jam-packed with images of Placer County’s past. In 2008, Sommers gathered photos – many from his extensive personal collection extending back to the 19th century – to author a well-received book on Auburn that was published as part of the Images of America series. This time around, Sommers has taken on the larger task of covering the entire county in “Images of America – Placer County.” The title went on sale this week at local retailers and online. For Sommers, a 1968 Placer High grad who returned to Auburn after an Air Force military and civilian career, the books represent not only the fruits of a history degree from San Francisco State University but long hours each week searching eBay for old photos of Placer County. The work pays off with some unique and revealing glimpses into days gone by in Western Placer County, the foothills, mountains and the Foresthill Divide. Disaster recalled History of a more recent vintage has found its way into another book – “A Wall of White” by Jennifer Woodlief, a Tiburon author and former Sports Illustrated writer. Woodlief’s “Wall of White” will be out next month, providing readers with a very Placercentric story from 1982. On March 31 of that year, the book’s “wall of white” descended on Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in the form of a deadly avalanche. It was one of the deadliest ski-area avalanches in North American history. Seven people died and, miraculously, 22-year-old ski lift operator Anna Conrad was located still alive after being buried alive for five days under 20 feet of snow. Altria Books is publishing the paperback edition of a hardback book that came out early last year under the Simon & Schuster imprint. After a week of storms, it’s a reminder of the full force of nature and how we’re not immune from it in Placer County – particularly in the high country. The 1982 avalanche occurred after a four-day snowstorm. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at 530-852-0232 or at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.