'Perfect storm' of events helped save life of woman buried in weekend avalanche

Woman describes 'strange calm' after being buried by snow

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16 2013 7:11 p.m. MST

Elisabeth Malloy and Adam Morrey share their story of being caught in a weekend avalanche in Millcreek Canyon Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, at University Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Elisabeth Malloy knew that she had no control over her fate.

She had just been "mowed over" by an large avalanche that swept her 100 feet down the mountain. She was on her stomach, pointed head-first down the slope.

Malloy was able to create a small air pocket by flailing her arms as she was moving — trying to "swim" to the surface of the avalanche. But once the slide stopped moving, and once the snow settled, she found herself buried 1 ½ to 2 feet deep, unable to move.

At that point there was complete silence. All Malloy could do was collect herself and try not to panic.

"The sensation was serene, really. I didn't really panic," she said. "I decided the best situation for me is to meditate and breathe really slowly. And so I just said a few things to myself, like 'It's not time for me. I'm not ready yet. I'm just going to breathe really slowly and Adam will find me.'

"I just had that feeling that I was going to be fine. It was just weird. It wasn't a suffocation, it wasn't a fear. It was really kind of a strange calm. And I had an initial feeling of getting panicky and freaking out, but my second instant thought was, 'Well, that's stupid. That's not going to help me.'"

Malloy said she "totally slowed her breathing down" and breathed only through her nose.

"It was like I was having a little nap. And I remember being woken up by sweet kisses. That's how I remember it. I was being woken up by being kissed awake."

Those kisses were actually her boyfriend, Adam Morrey, giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She had been completely buried under the snow for several minutes. By the time Morrey was able to find her and dig her out, she was unconscious and not breathing.

That was Saturday, when Malloy and Morrey were backcountry skiing in the West Porter area of Millcreek Canyon. They were caught in an avalanche that measured about 700 feet wide, 2 feet deep, and swept 800 feet down the mountain.

Malloy, 43, was discharged from University Hospital on Wednesday. Although she still has weeks of physical therapy ahead, she was able to keep all of her toes and fingers and is expected to make a full recovery.

An emotional Morrey and Malloy — who walked gingerly into a press conference on her own power — told their remarkable story in public for the first time on Wednesday. As bad as it was to be caught up in the avalanche, Malloy called it a "perfect storm" of events that happened afterward that made it possible for her to be here today.

"It could have been a much different outcome had the right things not been in place," Morrey said.

The two experienced backcountry skiers said they were having a great day of skiing to that point. And they were aware of the considerable avalanche danger that day, but kept pushing it as the afternoon progressed.

"Our judgment was overwhelmed by the pursuit of having more fun, skiing steeper slopes and great Utah powder," Morrey said.

Morrey was traversing uphill, with Malloy below him, when the large slab of snow broke free.

"There was a large collapse. I could see there was snow falling from the trees. There was a lot of energy that had dropped onto the slope. I immediately looked up and saw the slab near the ridge line had released, that we were going to be caught. I turned downhill with some profanities, was able to make it 10 or 15 feet before I was hit, and in my mind I also knew Elisabeth was caught," he said.

The avalanche pushed Morrey about 15 feet into a group of trees. After a few seconds, the snow had passed over him. His foot was still stuck in one of his skis.

"I immediately called for Elisabeth, and there was no response from her," he said with glassy eyes as he recalled the story.

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