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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Max Zilvitis and his parents, Samantha and Brian, talk to reporters in their Park City home Thursday.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Max Zilvitis, 11, remembers his dad yelling "avalanche" and then looking over his right shoulder just as a wall of snow hit the boy and sent him tumbling.

For what seemed like forever, Max was carried on what he called a "snow roller coaster."

"It felt like I went upside down," he said. "I moved around for awhile, but then I don't remember anything until the next day."

As Max was being swept away Sunday at The Canyons, he instinctively started doing what he had watched recently on the Discovery Channel about ways for increasing the odds of surviving an avalanche.

Max said he nodded his head up and down and moved his arms in front of him to create air pockets. He was trapped under the snow for more than 30 minutes. He was not breathing and had no pulse when he was found.

When Max regained consciousness the following afternoon, more than 24 hours after the accident, he was a little groggy at first, but then picked right back up as if the accident had happened not that long ago.

"He asked, 'What happened to me? Where are my skis? Where's my pass? Where's my jacket?"' He had saved up all fall for a new Burton ski jacket and pants. "It was the first thing he asked about," said his mother, Samantha Zilvitis. "Those questions made us feel great."

Max spoke publicly for the first time about his harrowing ordeal and his recovery, which some are calling nothing short of a miracle.

Max and his father were on their last run of the day. The avalanche happened in the Red Pine Chutes area off the 99-90 ski lift, but Max and his dad had taken the North Face. They had stopped at the bottom of Red Pine Chutes to rest. Max was sitting down when his dad heard someone yell something from up the hill. He looked up and saw the avalanche coming toward them, he said.

"It seemed surreal. It didn't look like it was going fast. I didn't think it would get to Max," Brian Zilvitis said.

Max was swallowed first by the snow, then Brian. Brian Zilvitis said he was buried to his waist but was able to dig himself out quickly. Because no one else was around, Zilvitis feared that "if I had gone under, no one would have known we were killed."

The Canyons reported it was 33 minutes from the time they learned of the avalanche until Max was found. But Brian said when the time it took to call 911 was factored in, Max was actually under the snow for 39 minutes.

When Max arrived at Primary Children's Medical Center, doctors slowly warmed his body but for 24 hours let his body temperature stay below normal to allow his brain time to heal. Already some of Max's organs were showing initial stages of suffering from a lack of oxygen.

But by keeping Max in almost an induced hypothermia-like state, he appears to have come out of the near-death incident with no brain damage.

"As soon as he got to Primary's, every single thing they did was right," Samantha Zilvitis said.

The only time things didn't happen as doctors predicted was a 90-minute period on Monday when Max's heart rate and pulse continued to drop. It was the scariest part of the entire ordeal, his parents said.

But doctors were able to correct the situation, and not long after, Max regained consciousness.

"No father should have to go through what he did," Samantha Zilvitis said of her husband's frightening experience.

Wednesday Max was allowed to leave the hospital. When he arrived at his home outside Park City, where The Canyons can practically be seen from his back yard, his friends had decorated the house with streamers, balloons and posters welcoming him home.

"It's going very well," Max said Thursday.

Even Max's younger sister said she was happy to see him.

"I'm really glad that he's back. It's really boring to not have someone to bug me," Abby Zilvitis said jokingly.

Max and his father still have some flexibility problems with their hands, and Max is being treated as if he had suffered a concussion, his parents said. He is not allowed to go outside for awhile or participate in any extracurricular activity. But he is expected to make a full recovery.

While the Zilvitis family was happy to be reunited, their hearts also go out to the family of Jesse Williams, who was killed in the same avalanche. Max did not learn of Williams' death until Thursday.

The incident has not discouraged Max, who has been skiing since he was 3, from getting back on the slopes. He said once he is given the green light he plans on going skiing again.

The Zilvitis family said they hoped to arrange a meeting Sunday with the ski patrol members who rescued Max to thank them in person.


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