‘I thought that was the end’, Man describes surviving Neffs Canyon avalanche

Dec 16, 2022, 5:15 PM | Updated: 6:53 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A backcountry skier feared his life was over when an avalanche swept him into a tree in Neffs Canyon Wednesday.  

He told his story for the first time Friday since an off-duty firefighter who heard his cries dug him out of that avalanche.

Travis Haussener, 35, is recovering at University of Utah Hospital from a severely fractured femur, a broken right arm, and broken ribs. He knows he made a decision that nearly got him killed doing a sport he loves.

Experts warn of high avalanche danger in lower elevations this weekend

“I thought that was the end of my life, yeah. And the first thought was, ‘you idiot what were you doing? You should’ve known better,’” he said from his hospital bed. That was not the way the day started out.

“It was supposed to be just an easy, mellow day,” he said. 

Wednesday morning Haussener skied alone into Neffs Canyon in an area where he had skied many times before. 

“I skied a lap, everything was fine. Snow seemed stable,” he said. 

He went for another lap.

“I just pushed it a little too far. All of a sudden I heard a woomph sound, and then I see this cascading wall of snow coming down at me, and I thought that was it. I thought that was the end,” Haussener said. 

He smashed into a tree and knew that he was badly injured.

“But it saved my life because all of the snow then cascaded below me,” he said. 

Buried up to his chest, Haussener tried to dig himself out with the arm that wasn’t buried in snow.  He also cried for help for 45 minutes before Unified Firefighter Tom Elbrecht, the only other person around, heard him and came to dig him out. Elbrecht also called for help. 

“He’s a hero, man,” Haussener said. “He kept me smiling. He kept making jokes. He kept talking to me. He kept me warm he, he hugged me when I was getting too cold.”

Elbrecht gave him a down jacket to keep him warm and huddled with him as they waited to be rescued.

“I was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. 

Haussener was just trying to stay alive during the next eight hours as rescuers ran into complications reaching the men. 

“Survive the next 10 minutes, and once you get to those 10 minutes, survive the next 10 minutes,” he said. 

Rescuers were unable to reach them with a helicopter after several attempts and had to bring him out the trail.

“They put me in like a body bag, and they just pulled me down the mountain basically and that was unbearable pain,” he said.

Haussener skis alone often because he skis 150 days a year and simply does not have enough ski partners to join him.  It’s a risk he has taken but he may take a different approach in the future.

“I think I need to be more careful about where I go for sure,” he said.

Especially on days when avalanche danger is considerable.

He’s already walking and expects to be out of the hospital soon. He plans to take it easy when he gets back on skis.

“I’m just so passionate about these things that I can’t stop, right? It’s what makes me me,” the avalanche survivor said.

He’s grateful for the people in the field and at the hospital who helped save his life.

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‘I thought that was the end’, Man describes surviving Neffs Canyon avalanche