Backcountry skier survives avalanche in Utah gully
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An avalanche that was caught on video dragged a backcountry skier into a Utah ravine and buried her in snow, but the woman survived because she deployed a special air bag and other skiers were able to quickly dig her out, witnesses said Tuesday.
Joe Campanelli was using his iPhone to record the sun-splayed Wasatch mountains Monday when the skier descended into a steep gully filled with loose snow in Grizzly Gulch, a short distance from the Alta ski area east of Salt Lake City.
“That is not a good slope to ski,” Campanelli says while recording. Moments later, the slope breaks, and he says, “You’re in a slide, bud!”
The woman pulled a ripcord on an air bag-equipped backpack — a European-style safety device that is becoming more common in the Rocky Mountain backcountry.
Campanelli abruptly stopped recording to help rescue the skier. His friend, Aaron Rice, told The Associated Press he used an avalanche beacon and a probe to find her location, then shoveled her out with help from others. She was buried in several feet (meters) of snow.
“She was breathing, talking,” Rice said Tuesday. “She said, ‘Thank you. I can’t believe you got here so quickly.’ She was completely shaken up.”
The woman was swept about 100 feet (30 meters) down the gully at an angle approaching 40 degrees, according to a report on the Utah Avalanche Center’s website.
The woman is lucky to be alive and uninjured, said Bruce Tremper, director of the Utah Avalanche Center. He said Utah averages about four avalanche fatalities a year.
“It’s a crapshoot — a game of Russian roulette,” Tremper said. “People may perceive a slope to be safe, but there are booby traps all around.”
The skier’s descent into the gully was so steep and short that her air bag had little time to work at keeping her above the roiling snow. Still, it might have kept her from getting buried longer, and under much deeper snow, officials said.
The skier didn’t immediately return a message relayed by the AP through officials who declined to provide her name or phone number.