The four skiers killed in Saturday’s Mill Creek avalanche were young Utahns who reveled in the state’s beauty, pursuing adventures from its ski slopes to its redrock country.
Stephanie Hopkins, known as “Steph” to her friends, was a nurse at University of Utah Health who “could often be found climbing in the desert or skiing the tallest mountains,” said her friend Lismore Nebeker. “She became best friends with strangers and found beauty in everything.”
Hopkins was skiing with two friends Saturday, and was hiking up in Mill Creek Canyon when the avalanche broke loose, her family said. A separate group of five skiers had come over from Big Cottonwood Canyon and were on the north-facing ridgeline separating the two canyons, below Wilson Peak.
Seven of the eight skiers were caught in the slide, which was 3.5 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide, officials said. While the skier who escaped the avalanche dug out and saved two of the six skiers who were buried, Hopkins and three skiers from the other group died.
Here is what we know about them:
Sarah Moughamian, 29, of Sandy
Growing up in a town of less than 1,000 people inside Idaho’s Boise National Forest, Sarah Moughamian had the mountains as her playground. She and her four siblings were practically raised there, family friend Kristy Olaveson Allen said.
It’s where Moughamian first learned to ski — not on resort trails of compacted snow, but on the nearby natural slopes. Allen remembered seeing Moughamian and her siblings “shooting down the mountain” on cross-country skis, completely at ease.
Early on, Allen said, she could tell Moughamian had an edge.
“She was competitive, driven. She could hold her own,” Allen said. “She’s fearless in her life.”
As her older brother Paul Moughamian said on Facebook in her memory, Moughamian lived life “big.”
“Sarah, I love you my little sister and now I’ll miss you forever,” Paul Moughamian wrote, adding, “hopefully we can live life as big as you lived yours.” Responding to his tribute, one friend wrote: “She was a wonderful, adventurous person who filled many lives with love and action-packed trips.”
Moughamian graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and had been working at Hall & Partners, a market research firm, in Utah for the past seven years.
Allen later became Moughamian’s boss. She said Moughamian approached work with the same drive she had for sport — and with the same aptitude, taking on hard projects and successfully completing them.
Last Thursday, Allen said, Moughamian took the day off to go backcountry skiing. Allen told her to be careful, like she did every time Moughamian went.
“And she says, ‘We are so careful. We know what we’re doing, and we’re very careful,’” Allen recalled.
When she got the call Saturday that Moughamian had been killed in an avalanche, Allen said, “It was just unfathomable, because they knew what they were doing.”
She said Moughamian, Moughamian’s partner [who survived] and two of the other skiers who died, Louis Holian and Tom Steinbrecher, were all friends, and were skiing together Saturday.
Jill Moughamian, Moughamian’s mother, told KSL-Channel 5 that Moughamian had been skiing Saturday with her soul mate, who dug her out of the snow but could not resuscitate her. “She’s really lived her life to the fullest and was doing what she loved to do,” Jill Moughamian said.
Allen said she’s since spoken with Moughamian’s partner, who also dug others out. She said he is heartbroken, but is trying to get by through living as Moughamian would have wanted: Fully.
Louis Holian, 26, of Salt Lake City
Louis Holian was the “ultimate outdoors partner,” enjoying rock climbing, skiing, running, hiking and biking, according to his friend Cody Fivecoat of Salt Lake City.
Fivecoat and Holian met around 2014, when they both worked delivering food on their bikes around Cottonwood Heights, he said. Later, Holian was a groomsman in Fivecoat’s wedding.
“He’s just a really funny guy” who was “always goofing around” and made you smile, Fivecoat told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday.
Originally from Illinois, Holian moved to Utah for the skiing and was “a really good park skier,” according to Fivecoat.
He “was perpetually stoked on getting into the mountains,”Fivecoat wrote in a Facebook post about his friend, where he described how Holian “would message me the night before to push me into getting up at 5 am to go ski some backcountry before work or link up trails in the canyons & foothills.”
“My first pair of skis I ever owned were a gift from him,” Fivecoat said.
According to the Facebook post, “He would crush doctors, dentists & road biking enthusiasts with $10k carbon bikes on his fixed gear wearing cut off jean shorts & vans.”
Holian worked at The Gear Room ski shop in Cottonwood Heights and Hangar 15 Bicycles in Millcreek, according to Fivecoat. He was “a friend to all” and “was an amazing being, kind, funny and a joy to be around,” according to a post Monday on the Hangar 15 Bicycles Facebook page.
“Hangar 15 Bicycles will miss him and our love goes out to the friends and family of Louis, Sarah, Stephanie, and Tom,” the post said. Mike Hanseen, manager of the bike shop’s Millcreek location, said, “I’m going to miss him so much.”
Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, 23, of Salt Lake City
A University of Utah graduate, Tom Steinbrecher’s social media posts also show he was an avid recreationist, with an affinity for the extreme.
“I like silly missions like taking my race skis down wolverine cirque” — a steep bit of terrain between Brighton and Alta ski resorts at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon — “or doing time trials up to the summit of Superior,” a 11,045-foot peak overlooking Alta and Snowbird ski resorts.
In December, he posted saying he was ready for the ski season. He was available early mornings and evenings on weekdays and all day on the weekends, he wrote. “Hope to get out with some of ya’ll soon!”
Steinbrecher and Holian were close friends, and a Feb. 14 gathering planned to celebrate all four victims will include a bike ride to a hill where the two men loved to ski, organizers told Fox 13.
“It’s supposed to be a day of just remembering all of the positive things that they brought,” Veronika Walker, Steinbrecher’s partner, told Fox 13. “I would encourage people to blast ‘Mambo No. 5’ when they’re there. That was Tom and Louis’s favorite song.”
The community event will start at 7 a.m. Sunday at one of the businesses where Holian worked, The Gear Room, followed by the bike ride, and then move to Hangar 15, the bicycle shop where Holian also worked. (The Gear Room is at 3422 Fort Union Blvd., near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon; Hangar 15 is at 3969 Wasatch Blvd.)
Stephanie Hopkins, 26, of Salt Lake City
Stephanie Hopkins was a gifted student at the University of Utah. She graduated from its prestigious critical care internship program and worked as a nurse in the neuro critical care unit, where she was “loved and respected by her colleagues,” the U. said in a statement.
Her friends say she loved the outdoors — one of her favorite places was Lake Powell — and also had a knack for making those around her feel loved.
“I don’t even know if I have words that will do her justice,” said friend Karsen Barbieri, “but she always lived life [to] the fullest and will be remembered and missed every time we see a sunset, have a great snow day, see blue butterflies, and enjoy the beauty of the world. She was the light of our life.”
Hopkins grew up in Salt Lake City, the daughter of a physician and the oldest of five siblings, said her aunt, DeeAnn Cervantez. ”She was an incredible person who will be greatly missed,” Cervantez said Sunday.
Her aunt described the Olympus High School graduate as gregarious, accomplished and smart, “really a caregiver, even to her family.”
Hopkins’ younger sister, Addi, 20, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December, the aunt said, and underwent surgery at University Hospital on Jan. 28, followed by another operation last Thursday.
Though Stephanie had taken the time off from he intensive care unit duties at the same hospital to support Addi and the family, “she made sure Addi had the best nurses and kept tabs on everything,” Cervantez said. “If anyone was in need, she was the first to step up.”
On Saturday, everyone in Hopkins’ group was initially buried, though some dug out, Cervantez said. Authorities told family members that crews reached and retrieved her body Sunday, and the family was awaiting word on an exact cause of death, she said.
A memorial Facebook page, Remembering Stephanie Ann, was created Sunday. “Her love of life was contagious,” one friend wrote. “She was the perfect example on how to live, to be present in the moment and to cherish the beauty of life.”
Hopkins’ “light and love was palpable to everyone who was lucky enough to cross her path,” friend Lismore Nebeker said. " ... She was truly one of a kind, her energy was contagious and this world was a better place for having her in it.”
Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners
— Tribune reporters Chris Samuels, Paighten Harkins, Becky Jacobs and Rebekah Wahlberg contributed to this report.
Correction • 9:10 a.m. Feb. 8, 2021: This story has been updated to correct the university Thomas Louis Steinbrecher attended.