SOUTH SALT LAKE — Eight months ago, Elisabeth Malloy Morrey and her boyfriend were backcountry skiing on some great powder in Millcreek Canyon when they were caught in a 700-foot wide avalanche.
Morrey recounted their story Thursday and expressed gratitude for the Salt Lake County sheriff's search and rescue team that saved her life on that freezing cold Saturday back in January.
The avalanche swept 800 feet down the mountain, carried Adam Morrey about 15 feet into some trees and trapped her under 2 feet of snow. He was able to locate his then-girlfriend, dig her out, and give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Peter Donner, an avalanche expert, was skiing in the same area and helped them get to a place where a helicopter could pick them up. That night, the frostbitten woman proposed to her boyfriend. And after a long recovery for her, the couple was married in March.
"Adam and I got married,” Morrey said. “It was the search and rescue (team) that involved such a large group of people working together so seamlessly that allowed myself and Adam to continue our lives together.”
Except for a bit of numbness in a couple of fingers and a toe, Morrey made a full recovery. Four months to the day after the incident, she and her husband skied the same slope — an important and cathartic experience for them. Over the summer, they hiked the mountain and found her skis, a missing boot and hat.
Adam and I got married. It was the search and rescue (team) that involved such a large group of people working together so seamlessly that allowed myself and Adam to continue our lives together.
–Elisabeth Malloy Morrey, avalanche survivor
“It’s been one of the most challenging things in my life, but it’s also made me a much better person — a lot more open, a lot more humble, a lot more understanding that I have so much more to learn about myself and those around me and my environment,” she said.
Morrey said she feels even better than 100 percent because the experience brought her closer to her family. She and her 18-year-old daughter are planning to receive avalanche training together this year.
“The relationship with my two daughters and Adam has only grown immensely from this difficult situation,” she said during a press conference Thursday.
“We’re here today to show our gratitude and thanks to the sheriff’s search and rescue teams who have kept us safe and protected the residents who use and recreate in our wonderful canyons,” Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said.
The team is made up of 35 to 40 trained volunteers who often drop whatever they are doing to go help people in distress — about 80 times a year. Sheriff Jim Winder said the team provides invaluable assistance to residents and more than 2.5 million visitors in the county's canyons each year.
“These men and women who are civilians support individuals — that means they’re volunteers,” Winder said. “At a moment’s notice the pager will ring, and they will leave whatever they are doing and they will race to locations throughout this county where they are immediately placed in positions to put their lives literally on the line. Rain, sleet, snow — it doesn’t matter.”
The Salt Lake County Council approved a proclamation this week honoring the search and rescue team for its efforts.
“It’s hard to put into words how inspiring it is to see these volunteers go up on the mountain in the darkness, in the cold, in the wet, and return somebody safely to their family,” Unified Police Capt. Kris Ownby said. “How much passion they do that with, you can’t really say in words. But when you see it, it really is something else.”