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`Snowballs' Emerge From Utah Avalanche

April 08, 2006|From the Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Michael Thomas and his five young children had just finished an afternoon of skiing and were driving back down the mountain when the avalanche hit.

There was no warning, he said, just a wave of snow that swept their sport-utility vehicle off the road and sent it sliding 100 feet on its side with Thomas, his wife, two teenage resort workers and the children, ages 3 to 10, all strapped inside.

"All I remember is white, and my seat belt holding me right here and bumping around," 10-year-old Adam Thomas told KSL-TV after the Thursday avalanche in Little Cottonwood Canyon. His family, from St. Louis, was on spring break.

Other than some scrapes and bruises, all nine passengers were fine.

When the SUV finally stopped sliding, the adults tried to get out of the vehicle, but the doors wouldn't open.

The two resort employees who had hitched a ride with the family managed to kick out one of the windows. They climbed out and helped the rest of the family escape before rescuers arrived.

"When we got to it, there were little kids climbing up out of the snow, all covered in snow -- little 3-year-old snowballs crawling out of there -- so it was pretty exciting to see that they were OK," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Todd Griffiths. He said the snow slide was about 6 feet high and 100 yards wide.

The canyon road had been closed earlier in the day for avalanche control. One lane was opened in the afternoon so skiers and snowboarders could return to the valley, resort spokeswoman Laura Schaffer said.

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