SALT LAKE CITY – Michael Thomas and his five young children had just finished an afternoon of skiing and were driving back down the mountain when the avalanche hit.
There was no warning, he said, just a powerful wave of snow that swept their sport utility vehicle off the road and sent it sliding 100 feet on its side with Thomas, his wife, two teenage resort workers and the children, ages 3-10, all strapped inside.
"All I remember is white, and my seatbelt holding me right here and bumping around," 10-year-old Adam Thomas told KSL-TV after rescuers reached the St. Louis family following the avalanche Thursday in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Other than some scrapes and bruises, all nine passengers were fine.
But for the Thomases, in the Utah mountains for spring break, there were some terrifying moments.
When they SUV finally stopped sliding, the adults tried to get out of the vehicle but the doors wouldn't open.
The two Alta Resort employees who had hitched a ride with the family managed to kick out one of the windows. They climbed out and had helped the rest of the family escape when rescuers arrived.
"When we got to it, there were little kids climbing up out of the snow, all covered in snow — little three-year-old snowballs crawling out of there — so it was pretty exciting to see that they were OK," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Todd Griffiths.
He said the snow slide was about 6 feet high and 100 years wide.
The canyon road had been closed earlier in the day for avalanche control. One lane was opened late in the afternoon so skiers and snowboarders from Alta and Snowbird could return to the valley, Snowbird spokeswoman Laura Schaffer said.
The avalanche was about 4 1/2 miles from Snowbird Resort, 20 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. The resort got about 2 feet of snow Thursday.