One Skier Kept Utah Avalanche From Being Far Worse

He saved himself by clinging to a tree, then dug out others
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2021 2:50 PM CST
The Avalanche 'Washed Over' Him. Then He Sprang to Action
Two volunteers are shown after an avalanche in the Bear Mountain area near Chugiak, Alaska. It was one of several fatal avalanches this month, including one in Utah that killed four skiers.   (Stephanie Rice/Alaska Mountain Rescue Group via AP)

The US is coming off the deadliest week for avalanches in more than a century, and the Salt Lake Tribune reports that the toll would have been even higher if not for the actions of one skier. The unidentified man was among a group of five skiers ascending a back-country hill outside Salt Lake City when an avalanche enveloped them and another group of three skiers on Saturday. He managed to cling to a tree, but the others were swept away. Six were completely buried and another partially buried. Using a transceiver, the skier located the signals of two of the buried skiers and dug them out of snow up to 5 feet deep. The others could not be located and rescued in time, resulting in four fatalities. All of those who died were in the 20s.

"He ... grabbed a tree and held on for dear life while all the while the avalanche washed over him and buried everyone else," forecaster Drew Hardesty tells the newspaper. "And at that time, to see this occur and then have the wherewithal to go acquire the [beacon] signals and do not one but two full and deep burials and rescue two lives, is amazing." People reports the four who didn't make it out have been identified as Stephanie Hopkins, 26; Thomas Steinbrecher, 23; Sarah Moughamian, 29; and Louis Holian, 26. "She has spent all of her available free time in these last months climbing, skiing, and mountaineering," Moughamian's mother, Jill, tells KSL-TV. "She ... was doing what she loved to do." (More avalanche stories.)

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