LOCAL NEWS

Survivor still healing 18 years after deadly Utah County avalanche

Dec 29, 2021, 10:53 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2021, 8:47 am

UTAH COUNTY — As forecasters cautioned of considerable avalanche risk across much of northern Utah and high risk in the Uintas, a survivor of a deadly 2003 avalanche said the potential toll is not worth the chance.

“Everybody wants to say, ‘oh, it won’t happen to me’ or ‘it’s not going to happen’ or ‘it didn’t happen this one time’ — we didn’t think that either,” said Matt Long. “It changed my life, families’ lives, friends’ lives in an instant.”

Long was snowboarding with a group of friends on Dec. 26, 2003, in an area outside of Sundance Mountain Resort near Aspen Grove and had planned to make just one more “big, long run.”

He was on the mountain with Adam Merz, Michael Hebert, Rod Newbury and J.D. Settle when the unexpected happened.

“Right about when we got to the mouth of the chute, I clearly remember I had my buddy, Mike Hebert, standing behind me,” Long recalled during an interview with KSL Wednesday. “All I heard him scream was, ‘avalanche.’ I looked up and saw a 50-foot wall of white. Scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life! The noise was unreal.”

Long said the first instinct was to turn and run, but the wind and wall of snow quickly overcame the group.

“I remember seeing Mike fall down in front of me and the last thing I saw was staring into his eyes and then it was a complete washing machine,” Long said.

Long didn’t know which way was up when his body came to rest, but he quickly discovered he only had about 4 inches of snow on top of him and the ability to try to free his legs, which were stuck in the compacted snow.

“Time during this whole thing, I have no idea — it could have been a half hour, it could have been an hour, I have no idea honestly,” Long recalled. “It seemed like an eternity.”

He angled toward a group of trees in case another avalanche came down.

It wasn’t long before another did. Then another. Then another.

Somehow, Long escaped all of them.

“When the fourth one finally ended, I was up to my armpits with how I was holding myself,” Long said. “By the grace of God, I was able to scoop snow away.”

Long said he was scared out of his mind, and as he walked the mountain looking for his friends he spotted a hand protruding from the snow.

“Immediately I started to dig and it was not one of my friends,” Long said. “It happened to be one of two brothers that were on snowshoes that night that I (dug out of the snow). He was one of the guys when I got him out and he could reach his phone, he did place a call to 911.”

Though searchers arrived on scene and attempted to locate Long’s friends, the only other one of the group to survive was Settle.

“It screwed me up emotionally, spiritually,” Long said. “My addiction got fueled immensely, leading to a lot of incarceration, destroyed relationships.”

Long said he ultimately found sobriety four years ago and has started to move forward with the help of friends and others.

He is now cautioning others to be prepared heading into the backcountry — including knowing the terrain and avalanche forecast

“Of course, I was a young, dumb kid and didn’t care to look at that,” Long said.

Settle soon after the avalanche acknowledged being aware of the risk.

Long also said it was extremely important to let others know where they’re going and to have the proper equipment.

He said he believed beacons could have made a difference on that day.

“Please don’t be too ignorant to put money into (it),” Long said. “If you’re going to do backcountry, take all the precautions necessary. You have loved ones. You are loved and it’s a loss — it really is.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

FILE -- This Feb. 8, 2017, photo, Utah State Crime Lab Director Jay Henry holds a sexual assault ev...
Daniella Rivera

Utah abortion laws unclear on reporting, verification process for sexual assault victims

Utah abortion bans require law enforcement and physicians to work together to help victims of sexual assault who are seeking abortion care, but KSL Investigators found the state has not established a uniform process to ensure that happens.
23 hours ago
(Debbie Worthen/KSL TV)...
Matt Rascon

Two boys on a bike critically injured in South Jordan crash

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Police say two children are in critical condition after a SUV driver hit them while they were in the bike lane on 11400 South in South Jordan. Sgt. Eric Anderson with the South Jordan Police Department said the crash happened near the intersection of 2200 West and 11400 South just before noon […]
23 hours ago
Ormond Construction crews install secondary water meters in a subdivision in Woods Cross for the We...
Keira Farrimond and Dan Spindle, KSL TV

Metering Utah’s secondary water may help overuse in drought

During the driest months of the year, Utahns' yards can be a primary culprit for water overuse but there's one thing some water districts are seeing make a big difference in how much customers use: secondary water meters.
23 hours ago
...
Candice Madsen, KSL TV

A more perfect Union: Former Senator Joe Lieberman discusses the constitution

At a troubled time in American politics, one man has a unique perspective, having been at the center of several key turning points.
23 hours ago
FILE The views from Frey Peak in Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. (Larry D....
Carter Williams, Deseret News

‘Art is a good teacher’: New public exhibit draws attention to the drying Great Salt Lake

Jacob Brooks' latest painting is quite simple, so simple that his 3-year-old son can understand the message Brooks is trying to convey: trying to save the Great Salt Lake.
23 hours ago
Ogden police blocking off roads of Ogden-Weber Technical College after a bomb threat call....
Michael Houck

Police respond to bomb threat at Ogden-Weber Technical College, no device found

Ogden-Weber Technical College closed for the day after a bomb threat was made toward the campus Wednesday afternoon. 
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...
AARP Utah

Utah Voters 50+ Support Increased Access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Survivor still healing 18 years after deadly Utah County avalanche