PARK CITY — One last ski run before lunch.

That's all the trio of teenage girls had in mind as they zipped down one of the slopes at The Canyons Resort last Dec. 23. But it may be the reason 11-year-old Max Zilvitis was still alive a couple days later to see Christmas.

Alison Williams, Emily Loughlin and Leslie Pierce didn't have any grand plans for the day — just carve up the mountain a little bit. But when they came across a father screaming for his lost son amid a whitewashed landscape, their plans suddenly didn't matter.

"I can't find my son! He's buried in the snow," cried Brian Zilvitis, the boy's father, on his knees. Loughlin later recalled how difficult it was to watch the man in his frantic state.

The girls hadn't heard the rumble or felt the shaking on the mountain just a few minutes earlier, but memories of an avalanche safety assembly at school sprang to mind. Loughlin and Pierce started prodding the snow with the dull end of their ski poles, while Williams flashed down the mountain in search of authorities.

"I'm not even sure if I turned while going downhill," Williams said. "I was skiing so fast."

Before long, an impromptu search party had grown. The remaining two girls flagged other skiers down as they came by and enlisted their help. Then the ski patrol showed up with long, thin metal poles to pierce deeper into the snow.

Finally, some 35 minutes after a wall of snow had cracked, pitched over and enveloped the child, Loughlin's pole nudged something soft. Everyone crowded around and started digging, many with their hands.

When Max's blue body was dredged from the snow, Loughlin and Pierce felt emotion surge through them.

"We weren't sure if (Max) was alive," Pierce said.

Zilvitis was transported to Primary Children's Medical Center, where he awoke the next day. That's when his family learned that he, like his rescuers, had relied on earlier instructions about what to do in such a situation — in his case, a Discovery Channel special taught him that sculpting air pockets in the snow around his body would preserve warmth.

Though the girls are reluctant to call themselves heroes, their community certainly isn't. The American Red Cross's Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter recognized them Thursday at its annual heroes luncheon.

Two and a half months after the avalanche, Max is "doing phenomenally well," according to his dad. He's still meeting with a physical therapist to strengthen his hands again, but he's otherwise healthy.

He's back to playing hockey and has started skiing again — not to mention learning how to snowboard.