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

Randy Martin working on a reading station in West Valley City. (KSL-TV's Mike Anderson)...
Mike Anderson

Utah air quality is continuing to get worse, says USU professor

A Utah State University professor says that Utahns are breathing some of the worst air we've seen in over a decade.
1 day ago
The area where first responders rescued the two people (Weber Fire District)...
Michael Houck

Two rescued from Pineview Reservoir after falling through ice

Officials are warning residents of thin ice after two people needed rescuing from the Pineview Reservoir Saturday morning. 
1 day ago
(KSL TV)...
Michael Houck

Police: Man threatening neighbors with knife, leads officers in multi-agency chase

A man is in police custody after "waving" a knife around bystanders and fleeing from police Friday evening.
1 day ago
Presenters at the Health Relationship Youth Summit asking for final questions. (KSL-TV's Mark Less)...
Alex Cabrero

Utah teens learn more about healthy relationships at youth summit

Teenagers gathered at a Healthy Relationship Youth Summit to learn more about the signs of unhealthy relationships and be able to identify them.
1 day ago
snow covered bowl in Utah mountains...
Michael Houck

Woman hit by snowmobile while tubing near Peter Sinks, flown to U of U hospital

First responders treated a woman hit by a snowmobile while tubing near the Peter Sinks area Saturday afternoon.
1 day ago
For 29 years, Mike Skogerboe has been to nearly every girls and boys basketball game, and nearly ev...
Mike Anderson

Fremont High School helps support their superfan

Students and teachers at Fremont High School teamed up to help out their superfan who rarely misses a game.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Survivor still healing 18 years after deadly Utah County avalanche