Another newbie here joining in with the groundwork already laid down by those who came before me. I first heard about the DPI decades ago and it's always been in the back of my mind along with tons of other historical "incidents". What brought it to the forefront and eventually led me to this site were the recent news headlines that the mystery had finally been solved. The headlines were very misleading but that's not surprising; just as the Emilia Earhart disappearance generates a new theory every 5 or 6 years about what happened I suspect the same will be true about the DPI. Unfortunately in both cases the rank speculation will continue just about forever because there's no way we can possibly know what actually happened.
As for the newest "scientific" evidence it was all well and good up until they tried to use it to explain the massive chest and skull injuries as happening in the tent. People with those kind of injuries can not walk down a slope even if they don't die immediately from such massive trauma. They did show that snow could cause those kind of internal injuries without leaving external marks; much like what would happen if tons of packed snow fell on someone from a collapsing improvised snow cave.
The reason this case has always fascinated me is my own experience hiking and camping here in the Rocky Mountains. I've been struck by lightning, snowed on in the middle of August and fought against winds so strong you couldn't stand up straight in them. I've learned how to start a fire in a poring rainstorm with just wooden matches and have suffered both heat stroke and hypothermia in the same day. I've been the expedition leader many times but I've always preferred solo walkabouts... something you should not do unless you're comfortable with the concept of dying in a place you may never be found. I used to build snow caves when I was a kid but then I was just doing it for fun not to survive and my parents never approved fearing I'd bury myself.
A couple points I'd like to make first: Not losing elevation gain while on a long hike is a big deal. Going up and down a series of valleys or ravines wastes both time and energy. It's far better to find a ridge line and follow the contours around to where you're going. While the reality may not show up in the pictures I see nothing in the pictures of that hill, slope or depth of snow that would have prevented me from pitching my tent there. That being said I would always prefer to camp in the woods as you have the trees acting as a kind of wind break and you have a large and ready fuel supply. Still I can find no fault in where they did pitch their tent; just because some place is better doesn't mean another place is bad.
So what do I think happened? There really is only one mystery that can never be answered all the rest can pretty much be determined by what was left behind.
1. They left the tent in a panic... Obviously. There could be a thousand and one logical reasons as to what spooked them but it doesn't really matter as to what starts the stampede just what happens afterward.
2. Here's the mystery that will never be solved. After the initial panic attack and being outside where they could see that there wasn't an avalanche bearing down on them or a bear, yeti, wolverine looking to feast on hiker flesh they then proceeded down hill away from all their supplies. This is where the military, hunters or escaped cons with guns herding them could make sense if it wasn't for the fact that these armed gunmen wishing to do them harm allowed them to build a fire, dig out a snow cave, as well as allowing several members to return uphill.
3.Having reached the tree line they start a fire, breaking off low hanging dead limbs... this wood being much dryer than anything lying on the ground in the snow. They may have also broken off live limbs to use there at the fire to sit on or later as insulation in the snow cave. If any punches were thrown this is when and where it would likely have happened if there were any disagreements as to what to do next.
4. Some or all of them decided that a trip back up the hill was needed to retrieve enough supplies to keep them alive. On the way there Dyatlov is the first to fall; his companions still have enough energy and wits about them that they turn him over on his back and cross his arms over his chest. When the next one falls the lone survivor of the 3 that headed up hill now has only the will and energy to keep going so he stays face down on the ground and she only makes it a little further on before falling.
5. At the same time some or all of them determined that if the tent was now useless another form of shelter was needed and construction of a snow cave began. No way of knowing who originally started work on the shelter and who remained by the fire. We can suspect that the two found dead by the fire may have died when no one was around to pull them out after they fell into the fire burning them in several places. We also know that they died after the other 3 started up hill because all the removed clothing ended up with the ravine 4.
6. For some reason the original snow cave was thought to be inadequate so they moved into the ravine where something of a natural snow cave presented itself as a possibility. It's unfortunate that the snow roof fell on top of them because these 4 being the best dressed of all the members of the party had the best chance of surviving; instead they got entombed for several months longer.
Well that's how I see it going down. If I've made any glaring errors I'm sure that one or more of you will point it out to me.
... Crazy Horse...