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Skiers killed in Millcreek avalanche thought site would be safe, report says

Posted at 11:08 AM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 19:35:16-05

MILLCREEK, Utah — A report on the deadly Millcreek avalanche that killed four people Saturday says the skiers chose the site because "they considered it a safer option" than other areas.

WATCH: Friends remember local skiers killed in Millcreek backcountry slide

The Utah Avalanche Center released its report Friday, offering more details into the avalanche that buried six of eight skiers in the snow. Only two of the six skiers survived the avalanche.

According to the report, the skiers chose Wilson Glades on Feb. 6 because they believed it was less hazardous.

"They thought any avalanches in that area would be 'pockety' and did not think the entire slope would avalanche as it did," the report states.

Avalanche Burial Depths.jpg
These three photos show the burial depths of the three victims

Split into two groups, one started at Butler Fork trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon at 7 a.m. and noticed a "very large natural avalanche" in the Wilson Chutes just 90 minutes later. After reaching the top of Wilson Peak, the group discussed how to ski the area, but not whether they should.

The other group, Group B, arrived at Wilson Glades from Millcreek Canyon.

"They were all aware that the avalanche danger was rated HIGH for the day in that terrain," the report says of Group B.

READ: Millcreek avalanche a reminder of Utah's dangerous history

Despite knowing the dangers, the report adds that Group B decided to avoid the avalanche terrain.

However, the report says neither group dug a snowpit to investigate the snowpack.

After having skied the Wilson Glades three times, some of the skiers came together when the avalanche broke 30 feet above them.

Millcreek Avalanche Run.jpg
Photo looking into the trees where the avalanche ran

Sarah Moughamian, Thomas Louis Steinbrecher and Louis Holian were swept downhill in the avalanche, while a surviving skier lunged for a tree and said he had the wind knocked out of him and had the skis ripped off his feet.

Soon after, the other skiers "looked up and saw a wall of snow coming at them." Three of this group were fully buried in the snow.

According to the report, the skiers who were not buried began searching downhill with his transceiver. They immediately found one person and quickly learned they were not part of their group.

The rest of the report details how the survivors and emergency crews located the bodies of the skiers that died in the avalanche.

WATCH: Community event planned to honor Millcreek Canyon avalanche victims

Two of the surviving skiers were able to rescue two others buried in the snow before it was too late.

"Unfortunately, time was working against them. Their rescue efforts were top-notch, and they knew how to perform companion rescue quickly and efficiently. They did the absolute best anyone could do with six full burials," the report says.

Sarah Moughamian, Steinbrecher and Holian, along with Stephanie Hopkins, died in the avalanche. Their bodies were eventually recovered Sunday and transported off the mountain.