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Courtesy photo: Chris Gmitro

Millcreek Canyon avalanche survivor regrets skiing where 4 people died

By Tania Dean, KSL TV | Posted - Feb. 16, 2021 at 8:30 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah skier who survived an avalanche that killed his girlfriend and three others has spoken about the experience for the first time.

It has been nine excruciating days since Chris Gmitro was caught in the avalanche in Millcreek Canyon.

Four people died. Gmitro survived by hanging onto a tree. Not only did he survive, he also managed to dig two other people out, saving their lives.

Sadly, by the time he reached his girlfriend, 29-year-old Sarah Moughamian, it was too late.

"There's not another person like her in the world. Everyone who knew her knew she was brilliant and loving and caring and strong," said Gmitro.

Gmitro was too emotional to go on camera, but said he and Moughamian were inseparable from the day they met more than four years ago. They climbed mountains together and they skied down mountains together. They did it every day they could.

"Two days after she passed, I realized it was the longest we'd ever spent apart from each other," said Gmitro. "In four years, we spent literally every single day together."

On Feb. 6, Gmitro and Moughamian went with three friends to Millcreek Canyon to ski the Wilson Glades run.

"It was a beautiful day. The entire world was pink and just an absolute stunning day that anybody would be lucky to have one of in their lifetime," remembered Gmitro.

He said the ski conditions were perfect, but the group should have known better.

"We saw other avalanches and knew it was dangerous out. We made a terrible error, (a) miscalculation, in just how dangerous the glades were, and skied three laps before the avalanche happened on our third climb back up," Gmitro said through tears. "Skiing there is a decision that I'll regret for the rest of my life, for all of their sakes."

By the time the avalanche hit their group, it had already carried away three other skiers.

"It was a loud, thunderous wumpf – and it was a pretty terrifying sound," he said.

Gmitro said he lunged for a tree and was able to hang on for dear life. He was in total darkness for only a second, but as soon as the snow stopped sliding he got to work, digging out two people from the other group of skiers.

By the time he got to Moughamian, it was too late.

"I was a little angry at her, honestly," cried Gmitro. "I was mad that she couldn't fight her way out. That's absurd, but that's how I felt at the time."

Unified Police Sgt. Ed Twohill organizes efforts for rescue of people that may have been caught in an avalanche in Millcreek Canyon in Salt Lake County on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.
Unified Police Sgt. Ed Twohill organizes efforts for rescue of people that may have been caught in an avalanche in Millcreek Canyon in Salt Lake County on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Gmitro has been called a hero for saving the other skiers, but he doesn't see it that way.

"A hero doesn't put people in that position," he said. "It was everybody's decision, but a heroic decision would have been to ski somewhere else or to not drop in there."

Gmitro lost his girlfriend and two other close friends, 26-year-old Louis Holian and 23-year-old Thomas Steinbrecher, in the avalanche and he hoped no one ever has to go through the same.

"The idea of risk being manageable, sometimes it is until it's not. I hate to think of anybody else going through this," said Gmitro.

He said that day of backcountry skiing, before the avalanche hit, was the best it gets, but said you can get that same experience in less dangerous situations.

He wished he hadn't taken the risk that day, for Sarah's sake.

"I loved her more than anything," said Gmitro.

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Tania Dean

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