Kim Hall and Jewel Lund were avid wilderness skiers -- young, skilled and athletic -- but they were also lucky, surviving a treacherous fall in Utah's Wasatch Mountains Wednesday, tumbling 1,000 feet down a narrow gully.
The pair flew head-first off a 30-foot cliff in the Cottonwood Canyon. Hall walked away with only minor injuries, but Lund, 24, is in serious condition from multiple trauma injuries at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, according to hospital officials.
"It was terrifying," said Hall, 26, who had surgery on a wrenched knee Thursday.
"I'm OK," she said. "Jewel has a very severe concussion which they are worried about. They are cautiously watching her for brain bleeds."
Eyewitnesses said Lund's helmet had been so badly dented in the fall that she might have died if she had not worn it.
Lund underwent surgery for two broken wrists, according to Hall. "She is conscious and was talking and cracking jokes and laughing. But she is still confused and has no memory of the day."
Hall works in a retail mountaineering store and Lund had just finished college and was working as a waitress. Both live in Salt Lake City.
The friends, who have skied the back country for three years, were equipped with skins on their skis to climb uphill, harnesses if they had to rappel, crampons and mountaineering axes, as well as ice axes called whippets to anchor them on slick surfaces.
Their descent began at about 11,300 feet on the top of Utah's iconic Pfeifferhorn, also known as the "Little Matterhorn."
They were waiting for cloudy skies to clear so they could ski with full visibility down the northwest couloirs -- steep, narrow gullies hemmed in by sheer rock walls.
"I don't know exactly what happened," said Hall. 'I was in front of her and another man was with us in the couloirs below about 40 feet. We were trying to find the best way down and talking with the other guy.
"We were pretty nervous," she said. "It was a 50-degree slope and it was pure ice. I heard him yell out, and Jewel started tumbling. She had a whippet in her hand to throw in the ice to stop. But she had so much momentum."
"She kept sliding and kept sliding and the couloir comes to a narrow part where it chokes and she went straight through and didn't hit the cliff bands," she said. "Then I lost visibility."
Hall said she panicked and tried to go after Lund, a mistake that nearly cost her own life.
"I tried to side-slip and was using the ice ax," she said. "I was panicking and shaky and when I made it right above the choke, I lost the grip on my Whip-it and went tumbling. I remember the whole time sliding, and my skis came off, and at one point, I was head-first. I went off the 40-foot cliff and saw the rocks coming. I flipped on my back and went feet first and landed on my ass, bouncing a couple of times."
Lund was face-down, unconscious, but Hall was able to remove her friend's backpack and turn her so her mouth was not in the snow. Another party of wilderness-trained skiers helped begin first aid until a rescue helicopter arrived about 30 minutes later.