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May 6, 2021

Friends, family remember avalanche victims' love of the outdoors

SALT LAKE CITY — Family and friends of four people killed in an avalanche last weekend are struggling to make sense of the tragedy.

KSL-TV has learned more about two of the victims — 26-year-old Stephanie Hopkins, who was a nurse at University of Utah Health, and 23-year-old Tom Steinbrecher, who wanted to be a mountain guide.

Both of them were passionate about the outdoors, and both will be sorely missed.

Steinbrecher’s father, Lou Steinbrecher, found out about his son’s death after reading a headline about the avalanche.

“I knew he was going skiing on Saturday, so I texted him and didn’t get a response. And then I called him and his phone went right to voicemail. So at that point, I kind of had an idea,” said Steinbrecher.

Steinbrecher said his son loved to ski and rock climb. He moved to Salt Lake City from Connecticut a few years ago to attend the University of Utah.

Tom Steinbrecher actually had a fear of heights growing up, but was able to overcome that and find his true passion in the mountains.

Lou Steinbrecher also said his son was extremely cautious, and last Wednesday, went up to Millcreek to ski, but decided not to because it didn’t look safe.

On Saturday, he and his friends assessed the risks and decided it seemed OK. They even skied several times before the avalanche hit.

“They weren’t reckless. Some people think, ‘Oh, they were just reckless backcountry skiers,’ but they weren’t,” said Steinbrecher. “They had gone up three times already and were going for their fourth, and it’s just tough. It just happened. Sometimes the risk is just unknown.”

Stephanie Hopkins worked in the neurocritical care unit at University Hospital.

“I just want everybody to know how vibrant she was as an individual and how inspiring,” said Ser Dejesus, one of Stephanie’s coworkers and mentors.

They weren’t reckless. Some people think, ‘Oh, they were just reckless backcountry skiers,’ but they weren’t.

–Lou Steinbrecher, Tom Steinbrecher’s father

Dejesus said she had an amazing way with patients and she was born to be a nurse.

“Almost like a brilliant mind, just would pick things up as she could, and everything just kind of seemed natural. So when people would ask for her help, it almost seemed like she had been there for a lot longer than she had been,” he said.

Hopkins and Tom Steinbrecher both had one thing in common: their love for the mountains and the legacy they leave behind for those who knew and loved them.

And if there’s one takeaway from this tragedy, Tom’s dad hopes it’s this.

“If there’s anything they take out of this — yes, it was tragic — but you don’t know when your time is up, so go out and live your life to the fullest like he did,” said Lou Steinbrecher.

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