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Skier Buried for 23 Minutes in Avalanche Survives

The six skiers that he was guiding in Big Cottonwood Canyon found and rescued him

Earlier this month, mountain guide Willie Benegas was recently caught and seriously injured in a large avalanche near Little Cottonwood Canyon. Despite being buried for over 20 minutes in over two metres of snow, he survived.

Willie and his twin brother Damian, both 54, are the founders of the renowned Benegas Brothers guide company. Willie has climbed Everest 13 times. On March 12, around 12:30 p.m., Willie was caught and injured in a large avalanche near the East Bowl area of Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Willie was buried for a total of 23 minutes at 6.5-feet deep in snow. He was co-guiding an all-female team of six skiers when the avalanche took place. The six skiers, all of whom had reviewed avalanche rescue skills with Willie that morning, found and saved him.

“The snow encased my entire body, not allowing me to move, feeling completely paralyzed,” Willie told Alan Arnette here. “After I came to a stop, I called out three times for help, but then my survival experience kicked in, and I became calm, knowing my teammates would start to search for me. I slowed my breathing to conserve as much of the oxygen within my small air bubble as I could and waited. As I was trapped, I thought, so this is how I will die. The only way to survive was to shut down, to go into hibernation. I visualized my teammates with probes, and then I guess I became unconscious.”

He survived with a contused lung and seven broken ribs. The ordeal has been very expensive and there’s a fundraiser to support Willie during this time. For decades, he’s worked on some of the world’s most famous peaks and has taken part in countless rescues saving other climber’s and skier’s lives. “He was instrumental in delivering aid to villages cut off by the Nepal earthquake, and his compassion for the Sherpa people is well known in the mountaineering community,” states the fundraiser.

“Kudos to the ladies,” Willie said to Arnette. “I owe them my life.”

Willie Talks Everest