Skiers Plunge 1,000 Feet Down Icy Utah Mountain and Survive

Jewel Lund and Kim Hall escape wilderness accident, one with head trauma.

May 13, 2011— -- 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.

Eyewitnesses Said No Avalanche Reported

Tyson Bradley, director of Utah Mountain Adventures, was with one of five ski parties on the mountain at the time of the accident and when he heard screams from below, he made the call for a Life Flight helicopter.

The reason for the crowd on what locals call "the Pfeiff," late in the season when snow quality can be marginal, is a classic example of an extreme ski descent, according to Bradley.

"The run normally requires a rappel," he said. "However, due to the unusually deep snow pack in our mountains this spring, the line is filled-in [so] it can be skied without a rope. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for us denizens of extreme skiing. We all wanted to experience skiing this great line in the rare conditions."

He said early reports of an avalanche in the area were wrong and that weather and snow conditions may have been to blame.

"We sort of expected better snow," said Bradley, 44. "The conditions were not as good as we hoped."

The six to eight inches of new snow had been flushed away by earlier skiers and the surface was a "hard bed" of snow and ice.

Both women were skilled climbers and skiers. Hall said she had skied 50 days this winter without a ski pass.

"Like a lot of people who live in the Rocky Mountains, they love to challenge themselves and they love the personal reward they get from climbing and sitting on top and skiing down," said Bradley. "It's an athletic challenge and it's about overcoming fear."

Back country skiing is a "huge growing sport," according to Bradley, who has led groups since 1994. "It's ski mountaineering and extreme skiing."

As for the Hall and Lund, he said they were "just really nice and cute and fun and athletic. We were all chatting with them at the top and we were having a fun day until all of a sudden things went sideways."

Hall said she wouldn't return to the mountain right away. "Well," she said with a laugh, "it's the end of the season."

"I am not going to say I will never ski back country again," she said. "It's one of my passions to be outside and mistakes happen. But we are both competent skiers and we know the risks were are taking."

ABC News' information specialist Brad Martin contributed to this story.

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