Thomas Elbrecht

While backcountry skiing on Dec. 14, 2022, in a remote area of the Wasatch Mountain Range in Millcreek, Utah, Travis Haussener, 35, was caught in a 200-foot wide, 2-foot deep avalanche that surged downhill and enveloped him. The snow slammed him against a tree where he was pinned with severe injuries. Only his head and an arm remained unburied. He shouted for help. Within earshot while backcountry skiing himself, firefighter Thomas Elbrecht, 31, of South Salt Lake, Utah, heard Haussener’s calls. He followed Haussener’s tracks in the snow to the bottom of the avalanche-debris pile, where he then hiked up the steep slope and unburied Haussener, who had a broken thighbone among other severe injuries that inhibited him from moving to safety. Elbrecht used his cell phone to inform authorities about Haussener’s injuries after he moved him to a flat area nearby. He used a ski pole as a makeshift splint to stabilize Haussener’s leg and built a small shelter to shield him from the frigid conditions. He removed some of Haussener’s wet clothes and provided him with dry clothes including an extra jacket Haussener had in his backpack and Elbrecht’s own jacket and gloves. With the threat of another avalanche looming, Elbrecht remained with Haussener as rescue crews came up with a plan. A rescue helicopter responded but was unable to affect a rescue because of the steep slope and closely packed, tall trees. Eventually, two rescue personnel on the ground found them. Elbrecht helped lower Haussener to a spot where he was moved by toboggan and then snowmobile to a waiting ambulance. Haussener spent a few days in the hospital and endured a lengthy rehabilitation to his leg. Elbrecht was cold and hungry after spending several hours with Haussener, even beyond sunset, but was not injured.