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Professional skier Elyse Saugstad escapes deadly avalanche

February 20, 2012|By Austin Knoblauch
  • Ajai Sehgal, with King County Search and Rescue, works at a staging area near Stevens Pass ski resort in Skykomish, Wash., near where three skiers were killed in an avalanche Sunday.
Ajai Sehgal, with King County Search and Rescue, works at a staging area… (Erika Schultz / Associated…)

Professional skier Elyse Saugstad survived a deadly avalanche near a popular ski resort in Washington on Sunday after deploying a safety device that allowed her to escape relatively unharmed.

Saugstad was part of a group of about a dozen backcountry skiing experts who were hit by an avalanche while making their way through an out-of-bounds area near Stevens Pass -- a popular skiing destination in the Cascades in Washington.

Three men were killed in the avalanche, but Saugstad managed to avoid being completely buried after deploying an airbag from her backpack that allowed her to slide down the mountain. Saugstad credited the airbag for saving her life.

"I was completely buried except for my head and hands,” she told the Associated Press.

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Each of the ski party members were at least partially buried, but most of them managed to get free under their own power. But three men who were completely buried could not be resuscitated when they were pulled out.

Saugstad told NBC's 'Today' on Monday she was "absolutely devastated by the loss of my friends" and was still in shock over the incident. She described sliding down the mountain in the airbag as similar to "being in a washing machine and being flipped and tumbled."

"It literally was just trying to figure out within seconds of what exactly was happening and how I was going to deal with this," Saugstad said on "Today." "It was a very long ride and there was a lot of time to think."

Saugstad, an Alaska native, has competed on the Freeride World Tour, where she captured the 2008 title.

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