Girdwood skier credits airbag for avalanche survival

Posted Feb. 22, 2012, at 3:57 p.m.

Girdwood, Alaska, professional skier Elyse Saugstad credited an airbag she was carrying in her backpack for saving her life in an avalanche Sunday that killed three people she was skiing with near a Washington state ski area.

Saugstad, who grew up racing for Alyeska Ski Club and stars in ski videos, was swept 2,000-3,000 feet down a slope near the Stevens Pass ski area, according to ESPN.com.

“I was completely buried except for my head and hands,” she told the website.

The website reported that Saugstad was one of three skiers, including two who died, who were swept away from where they were waiting in the trees about 300 feet below the start of the slide.

“Once she was caught, Saugstad immediately deployed an airbag from her backpack, a device she later credited with saving her life,” the website said.

Saugstad was in the snow for less than 10 minutes before being dug out by others in her skiing party, ESPN reported.

Saugstad, 33, was among 13 skiers, including ESPN freeskiing editor Megan Michelson, who was not caught in the slide, skiing on more than a foot of fresh snow in an out-of-bounds area near Stevens Pass. They were described by ESPN as experienced backcountry skiers equipped with avalanche rescue gear.

On her own website, Saugstad said, “All the people in the party were properly equipped and experienced backcountry travelers.”

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