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Utah avalanche survivor's wild ride was also 'serene'

Published January 17, 2013 10:47 am

Recovering • She got frostbite but expects to return to mountains.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Elisabeth Malloy never heard the slab break.

But she turned to see a wall of snow 700 feet wide and 2 feet deep rushing toward her.

She had been climbing the West Porter Fork in Mill Creek Canyon on Saturday. With her straps loosened for the hike, she could not get out of the way. The avalanche overtook her in moments.

On Wednesday, Malloy, 43, left University Hospital in Salt Lake City with all of her fingers and toes. Thanks to the quick thinking of her boyfriend, the aid of a good Samaritan, the efficient response of her rescuers and the treatment from her doctors, she's going to be all right. Somehow, she knew that even while she was completely buried under an avalanche.

"I was trying to swim, I was flailing, trying to get on the surface," Malloy said, speaking publicly at the hospital for the first time since the slide. "I was going face first on my stomach downhill. It was kind of a ride. There was no stopping, no control."

She felt her boot come off her foot. Soon, it all stopped, and she was buried under 18 inches of snow. Luckily, she had a small pocket of air. Calm the whole time, she meditated and slowed her breathing.

"It was surreal," Malloy recalled. "It was as quiet and embryonic without being in water that I can imagine. The sensation was serene."

Her boyfriend, Adam Morrey, 30, was only partially buried in the slide and wasn't hurt.

"I heard her [avalanche beacon]. I knew I had an opportunity to save her, and I had to try to get to her," he said, tearing up as he recounted how he methodically tracked her down and dug her out. He wrapped her exposed foot, tried to work a glove back on an exposed hand and clothed her in extra jackets that they had brought.She soon stopped breathing, but he resuscitated her, and Malloy remembers waking up to his "sweet kisses" — and that she really wanted a hot toddy.

Peter Donner, another skier who happened to be nearby, found them and called 911. Donner and Morrey placed their skis in front of Malloy so she could step on them and walk down the slope.

"He was our beacon," Malloy said. He sang her a song to keep her calm, which included promises of her hot toddy. With the additional help from the Utah Highway Patrol helicopter crew, a rescue team flew the couple out of the canyon.

Malloy had frostbite on her right hand and right foot and was suffering from hypothermia, but the hospital medical team saved her extremities. She has a long recovery ahead to regain her dexterity, and she's at an increased risk of frostbite in the future, but she's intact, all right — and very lucky.

She wants everyone to get educated on avalanches — the risks involved, the equipment needed and the necessary practice before going into the backcountry. She and her boyfriend are experienced skiers. An avalanche can happen to anyone, Malloy said.

Malloy, in love with the mountains, plans to return to the backcountry as soon as she's able and get that hot toddy with Donner. And Morrey may soon be more than her boyfriend, too.

"We're dating. Pretty soon that may change," Malloy said.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda —

For more on slides

Information on avalanches, including daily risk advisories, can be found at UtahAvalancheCenter.org.