'White The Entire Way': Skier Survives Killer Washington Avalanc - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

'White The Entire Way': Skier Survives Killer Washington Avalanche

MSNBC.COM - Well-equipped and familiar with the terrain, about a dozen expert skiers were making their way through a foot-and-a half of fresh snow when an avalanche hit them in an out-of-bounds area near a popular Washington ski resort on Sunday. 

Three men were killed when they were swept about a quarter-mile down a canyon, and a fourth skier caught up in the slide was saved by a safety device, authorities said.

The large group had split into three smaller groups before the avalanche, but all the back-country skiers were buried to some extent, authorities said. Those who were able to free themselves rushed to dig out the victims and unsuccessfully performed CPR on the three.

"Most of the people involved in this were well-known to the ski community up here, especially to the ski patrol," said Deputy Chris Bedker of the King County Sheriff's search-and-rescue unit. "It was their friends who they recovered."

The men who died on Stevens Pass tumbled approximately 1,500 feet down a chute in the Tunnel Creek Canyon area, King County Sheriff's Sgt. Katie Larson said.

They were identified as Chris Rudolph, Jim Jack and John Brenan. All of them were believed to be in their 30s and 40s.

The fourth skier who was swept down the mountain about 80 miles northeast of Seattle was a woman who appeared to avoid a similar fate because of the avalanche safety device she was wearing, Larson said.

Elyse Saugstad, a professional skier originally from Alaska, survived the fatal slide.

"We didn't anticipate it, but when we saw it happening we knew exactly what was happening and it's amazing how quickly an avalanche happens and it progresses," Saugstad told the TODAY show.

Saugstad said she immediately pulled the lever on her avalanche safety backpack. The backpack inflates an airbag around your upper body and lifts you above the avalanche, so you stay on top of the snow.

Saugstad suffered minor injuries in the avalanche. She credits the avalanche safety backpack for saving her life.

"Don't get me wrong. It's not like you're taking an inner tube ride down some snow fill. You're definitely in the avalanche and it feels like you're in a washing machine and being flipped and tumbled," Saugstad said. "It's white the entire way -- it's very scary."

The Stevens Pass fatalities were part of a deadly Sunday on Washington ski slopes. A male snowboarder was killed in a separate avalanche incident at the Alpental ski area east of Seattle, authorities said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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