Tree Well Safety
17 Jan, 2008
At Steamboat on Tuesday we had a death on the mountain, unfortunately a skier fell headfirst into a tree well and did not make it out. Here’s the article here from the Steamboat Pilot about the death. It really is sad and unfortunate when accidents happen on the mountain.
Tree well deaths are really common anytime you are riding off-piste (off groomers). Definitely the responsibility of any rider/skier to learn about tree well safety. Check out http://www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com/
A tree well is shown below in the photo. Basically throughout the season, snow piles up and creates space below the tree. If you ride close enough to trees, this space can collapse and you can fall into the tree well.
Having grown up in Washington, tree wells have always been a part of snowboarding for me. The tree wells deaths I would hear about each year are tremendous and every friend I have rode with, have had close encounters of getting stuck. The snow in Washington is so heavy that if you are caught in a tree well and the snow collapses around you, digging your way out and trying to breathe is really not likely to happen. Here in Colorado, the snow is lighter but the chance is still there especially in years like this year where we are getting a couple feet of snow in a day.
I’ve had one day on snow here where I fell butt first into a tree well, completely stuck in the snow with my feet and board uphill, my head towards the tree staying up. Luckily I was riding with friends and a friend was able to come over, dig out my bindings and unstrap my board for me. I needed a hand to even get out from the position I was in. The whole time I’m looking up towards the top of the tree where there is a ton of snow sitting on branches. Any movement of the tree and the snow would have piled down on me.
If you are stuck, get your friends to help you out. Don’t make a ton of movements because snow can shift and move or fall from the tree onto you and stay calm. Freaking out will make things worse. Riding with partners can save your life, but they have to be close to you. Riding by yourself, your taking a risk but just remember try to get your board off without making too much movement or making things worse. I know friends who carry whistles with them in case of emergencies on the mountain.
Definitely be careful out on the mountains. Every time you ride there are risks involved. I always ride in the trees but I never ride out of my ability level and try to always ride with others on the mountain.
Hope everyone has a safe year!