Top tips for tree well safety

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A few years back I was chasing the kids through the trees on the last run at Sunshine Village. Suddenly out the bottom corner of my eye I saw a person waving. Seeing someone wave is fine but she was in a tree well far below my feet.

Lucky for her, she fell with her head up. Unlucky for her, her skis came off and she sunk deep in the soft snow. No matter how hard she tried, she could not climb out and kept sinking. I stayed on my skis and we managed to get her out of the hole by pulling her through the soft snow away from the snow-packed trail. It turns out she, like me, was following her kids to the base and fell in. She had been there over an hour and my group were the only skiers to go by. It wasn't hard to get her out but it was definitely a two-person job.

Snow Immersion Suffocation (SIS) is deadly for skiers and boarders. Tree wells are the deadliest at 67% with suffocation in deep snow coming in at 28% of the deaths. Interestingly it’s the experts that make up the majority of the deaths. Over 80% of the victims were classified as advanced or expert in the findings. And just like the lady I found in the tree well, over 90% of the people involved in tree well accidents could not rescue themselves.

So, what do you do if you fall in a tree well?

Trees on Mountain

If you are skiing the glades always go with a buddy and stay within shouting distance.

Stay clear of the base of trees. Those low branches may be concealing a human-sized hole.

Falling? Do whatever it takes to keep your head up. Grab branches, roll so your feet go first. Fight to stay upright. AND YELL! If your buddy doesn't hear you, someone else in the glades will.

If you go head first, use your arms to make an air pocket for your face.

Try not to struggle or you might sink further.

Keep your cell phone in a breast pocket so you can try to call for help (if there is service).

Wear a transceiver/beacon or go low tech and buy a whistle. That will get help to you fast.

What if you find someone head down in a tree well?

Don't leave! Call for help or use that whistle we just talked about.

Stay safe, you don't want to do either of two things; fall in too, or compromise the air space for the victim.

Immediately clear space for your buddy to breathe.

Don’t try to pull the victim out the way they fell in. Try to tunnel to the head and pull them out that way.

If you make skiing in the glades a habit, consider carrying a shovel as a habit too.

More information can be found at

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