Utah skier thought ‘I might not make it’ after night on mountain

Posted at 10:31 PM, Jan 13, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- Growing up alongside Utah’s outdoors, there is little terrain on the mountains that Bill Dunn has not covered.

“I’m a backcountry skier, a free-hill skier,” Dunn said. “Little Cottonwood Canyon is my backyard.”

But on Sunday, Dunn was introduced to a part of the canyon he had never intended to visit or ski during his daily trip to Alta.

“Everybody has their addictions and they all come at a cost,” Dunn said. “And I found mine last weekend.”

The 61-year-old had hiked up near Alta’s Supreme lift, and then skied down a chute on the other side. But when he climbed back up, instead of heading down again into Little Cottonwood Canyon, he accidentally took a path to American Fork Canyon.

Rather than turn around, he kept going.

“I continued skiing -- the snow was very good,” explained Dunn. “And like a fool, I took advantage of the conditions.”

Those conditions quickly worsened as the day turned to night.  The temperature dropped and snow started to fall, at which point Dunn realized he was nowhere near where he needed to be.

“Ok, I’m lost. OK, I don’t have any battery power. Alright, it’s snowing. OK, I’m wet,” Dunn recalled of the day. “And at some point you just resign yourself to the fact that it might be your time. “

But instead, he spent the entire night walking, trying to find his way off the mountain.

After climbing back toward where he started, at about 6 a.m., he managed to call his sister for help on his cellphone.

“I could hear the beeping on my phone,” Dunn explained. “I said, ‘My battery is low, so we’re not going to be able to talk long.’ She said, ‘Where are you?’”

Dunn was not entirely sure, but he was able to name two signs he had seen on the east and west side of him.  Then, his phone died.

“I just realized, at that point, that I might not make it,” Dunn said.

But he continued to walk.  Rather than attempt to head toward Alta, which was a more difficult route, he moved back down toward American Fork Canyon.

Eventually, he spotted a group of snowmobilers.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to get down there before they leave,’” Dunn said. “So, I just hurried as quick as I could, fully unappreciative of the fact they were there for me.”

Gearing up in the parking lot were search and rescue teams from Utah and Wasatch Counties.

“We were ready to deploy when a skier skied into our area,” said Sgt. Rhett Williams of the Utah County Sheriff Office.

Dunn was shivering and soaking wet when he approached the group.

“He thought he was in Heber,” Williams said. “He thought he made it over there. We warmed him, gave him some medical attention.”

Fortunately, Dunn only suffered a minor case of frostbite. By Tuesday, he was already back at work and doing well.

“I had a good evening with God,” Dunn said. “I really did.”

According to him, if the search and rescue crews had not been in place, he likely would have died where he found them setting up.

“I was in an area that you don’t get service,” Dunn said. “And the fact that I only had about 20 seconds of battery power, yeah, you think about those things. I’m lucky.”