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Utah Skier Saves Girlfriend from Backcountry Avalanche

Ignored "considerable" avalanche rating to their peril


A Utah woman is lucky to be alive this week, after she was buried Saturday by an avalanche—lucky that her boyfriend and partner wasn't completely buried in the same slide, lucky that he managed to keep cool during the solo rescue and lucky that another skier happened upon them and was able to help evacuate her.

Elisabeth Malloy, 43, and her boyfriend Adam Morrey, 30, were skiing in the mountainous backcountry of Millcreek Canyon east of Salt Lake City, when they triggered, and were swallowed up by, a 700-foot-wide avalanche.

Malloy was swept 100 feet down the slope, and described the wild ride in a press conference Wednesday:

I was sliding face-first on my stomach downhill. It was violent, I didn't hit anything, it was just kind of a ride, no stopping," Malloy said. "I had a small pocket of air I created with my arms and I decided the best situation was to meditate and breathe closely. I said to myself, 'It's not time for me, this isn't it and Adam will find me.' I had this feeling I was going to be fine.

Morrey was able to save her, but not without difficulty. Buried waist-deep by the slide, he dug himself out and began calling for his partner. When she didn't respond, he kept a cool head and immediately initiated a search using a beacon and probe. Within 10 minutes, Morrey had located Malloy, and began digging her out of the snow with his avalanche shovel.

What he found wasn't promising, but was fairly typical given the violence of an avalanche. Malloy was unconscious and had lost her gloves and ski boots. Shortly after he uncovered her, she stopped breathing, and he performed CPR to revive her.

Around about then, a third skier happened upon the couple. He made a life-saving call to initiated a rescue, then helped Morrey transport Malloy down the mountain, sliding her on top of a plastic bag. Within two hours, a rescue helicopter spotted them and airlifted the group to University Hospital in Salt Lake, where Malloy is recovering from frostbite.

Here's video of the press conference from Salt Lake City's Fox affiliate, FOX 13:

The story, though a happy one, underscores the inherent dangers of skiing in avalanche-prone backcountry. "A little thump, then a whole mountainside just shatters like a pain of glass," said Bruce Tremper, Director of the Utah Avlanche Center. Being buried is "like being frozen in concrete. It's a horrible, horrible situation."

And one that could've been avoided. See, Malloy and Morrey knew that the Avalanche Center had warned of "considerable" avalanche danger for the mountains around Salt Lake last weekend, meaning that human-caused avalanches were likely. In fact, four skier-triggered avalanches happened across the area on Saturday. "Our judgment was overwhelmed by the pursuit of having more fun and skiing the steeper slopes and the great Utah powder," Morrey said.

Maybe next time around, they'll put the pursuit of life ahead of the pursuit of more fun.

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