Skier shares story, video of close call with avalanche near Provo

Mar 13, 2022, 10:30 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:25 pm

UTAH COUNTY — An Orem man is recounting the moments an avalanche nearly swept him down a mountain near Provo Canyon. Incredible video shows the close call as he shares what he learned to anyone headed into the backcountry.

The message comes after the Utah Avalanche Center saw 25 slides reported between Friday and Sunday, most triggered by people.

A skier and a snowmobiler were buried and dug out, while others experienced close calls.

Matt Galland understands these experiences firsthand after what happened to him on Monday, March 7.

Galland and two of his friends headed up to the South Fork area in Provo Canyon, and he described how they took every safety precaution possible — starting with checking avalanche conditions before they headed out.

“It was a green/yellow day through terrain that we’d be traveling through,” Galland said.

That said, he added that he knows conditions can be variable wherever you are.

They mitigated any potential issues, he further explained, by staying off big slopes and not going up as high.

“We took all the precautions: avalanche beacon, probe, shovel, helmet, airbag, testing as we went up,” Galland said.

He said they noticed some tricky spots with a weak layer showing in some areas, with snow loaded differently in various other areas. But other than that, everything looked good.

For one of the slopes they decided to hit, Galland described how they made a route to ski down and split the slope up into three sections at a time.

The first section was safe and fine, he said, at less than 30 degrees.

When they made it to the second section, which was near 30 degrees and steeper, he said his friend did a ski cut to test the snow and try to predict where any unstable snow may be.

“Nothing, no cracking. No whoomphing, no collapsing of layers,” Galland recounted. “It sounded good, felt good and he skied across it pretty aggressively, and then skied down.”

Galland’s friend made it down that second section and found a safe place to wait. As Galland started down, he ended up just above the ski cut.

All of a sudden, his friend begins yelling.

“Oh, Matt! Matt! Matt!” the friend calls out, watching from the top. The slope cracked and a wall of snow begins cascading down.

“I could see the crack, the slab release right in front of my feet,” Galland remembered.

In GoPro footage captured by both Galland and his friend, Galland is buried for a moment before his blue jack pops out of the white.

(Matt Galland)

His friend keeps eyes on Galland, moving to another spot. Galland slips out of the slide and holds on.

“I was able to get out of the, you know, off the slab and kind of dig my hands in and hold myself there,” Galland said.

He used his avalanche whistle to alert his friend downslope and yelled his friend’s name. Galland said his friend was his biggest worry. The friend yells back that he’s okay.

Galland explained that he’s been a backcountry skier for 25 years, skiing 80 to 100 days a year. He described himself as skiing conservatively, usually only on green days, yellow at the most.

He’s never seen or triggered an avalanche before.

In the moment the slide broke, Galland indicated that he immediately thought about how he and his friends all knew what to do, with proper training and gear, and it gave him relief.

Thankfully, everyone was okay. Galland later flew over the slide in a helicopter, understanding the scope of the avalanche, and knowing what could have happened if he didn’t escape.

“It was just Mother Nature reminding us, ‘I’m super powerful. I’ll always win, eventually, if you test me. And, respect me and my boundaries,’” he said.

Galland is hoping Mother Nature’s message for him is one everyone can learn from and think of the next time they head to the backcountry.

He said he’ll ski again, but with a renewed commitment that it’s okay to dial back, say “no,” and always remember that it’s a dangerous sport, even on green days.

Which is why he is now urging the importance of taking every safety precaution before heading out.

“Are you willing to accept the consequences that come with, naturally, with backcountry skiing? And if you’re not, don’t go,” Galland said. “And if you are, well, then be as safe as you can possibly be and have a good time living life rather than being afraid of it.”

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Skier shares story, video of close call with avalanche near Provo