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Team coverageSkiers are shocked that an avalanche killed a woman who was skiing at Snowbird on Sunday.
Family and friends are remembering the University of Utah graduate student this afternoon. Her life was cut short yesterday when a rare inbounds avalanche buried her at Snowbird.
Heather Gross' parents say there was so much more to her than just being an experienced skier. They say she was an educated world traveler who spoke multiple languages, loved life and people.
Gross was only 27 years old but accomplished more than some do in a lifetime. She already had a chemistry degree, spoke Spanish and Italian and began studying Chinese. "She had a bright future in front of her," said Ed Rubin, chair of the University of Utah Department of Linguistics.
Rubin mentored Gross as she was getting her master's degree in linguistics. "She was just a bundle of energy and an example to all of us," he said.
Rubin fought back tears just talking about Gross. Neighbors had an equally difficult time. "It's been hard for me to look at her car. I've come close to tears just seeing her car than I have for a long time," neighbor Mildred Meyers said.
Gross went skiing with a group of friends Sunday afternoon on the upper, eastern edge of Snowbird in a hike-in area called High Baldy. Snowbird officials say they did avalanche control there and just opened that section of the mountain.
Sam Fox, a friend who was with Gross right before the avalanche occurred, said she wasn't taking any major risks. He says she was on the same advanced ski run he and several of their friends were.
Fox says Gross lost a ski, and while climbing to get it, a rare in-bounds avalanche buried her five feet under. Some of her friends witnessed it.
"They saw the slide coming down. They were yelling at her, but she didn't have much chance to get out of the way. It could have easily been them, or any of us for that matter," Fox said.
Ten minutes after it happened, Fox got off the tram and considered taking the same run. He noticed something was very wrong. "I saw my friend Alex, and he said, 'It was Heather!' We were just searching for her frantically," Fox said.
Rescuers used search dogs and a probe to find her. Initially she was alive and flown to University Hospital, but she later died.
"It's very difficult to process the reality of the situation. It's frankly hard to believe such a thing is possible," Rubin said.
Snowbird officials say they haven't had a fatal in-bounds avalanche since 1977.
Now, as a family prepares to bury a bright girl who had a bright future, a team of investigators are beginning to look at how this happened. They expect to issue a preliminary report by the end of the week.