Skiers, snowboarders beware: It's a dangerous year for tree wells in Southern Interior - InfoNews

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Skiers, snowboarders beware: It's a dangerous year for tree wells in Southern Interior

There's big snow at the region's ski resorts after a late start to winter, but with that snow is an increased danger of becoming trapped in tree wells.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Big White Ski Resort Facebook page
January 23, 2020 - 7:00 AM

The recent deaths of two people in British Columbia after falling into tree wells has highlighted one of the dangers inherent in this year’s heavy snowfall in the Interior.

RCMP said on Jan. 20 a snowboarder was pronounced dead after he was found in a tree well near the Whitewater Ski Resort near Nelson on Jan.17. Four hours later another man was found unresponsive in some trees at the Fernie Alpine Resort. Last year, five people across western North America died after falling into tree wells in Canada and the U.S.

The tree well hazard has come on quickly.

From a shortage of snow at several local ski resorts before Christmas, to local snowpacks running 120 per cent of normal, there is lots of snow at the Southern Interior’s ski hills.

Apex Mountain Resort near Penticton reported at 171 cm base today, Jan. 22, with Big White near Kelowna at 270 cm. Further north, Vernon’s Silver Star Resort reported 176 cm and Sun Peaks north of Kamloops had 167 cm on the ground.

Powder Canada says mountain experts are warning of tree well hazards - a natural snow hazard made up of a space of loose, deep snow that forms around tree trunks. They are common around evergreen trees and can be deeper in heavy snowfall years like this one. The hidden cavities of snow form when branches prevent snow from compacting around the trunk. Skiers and snowboarders who get too close can fall in, sometimes headfirst, and suffocate.

The tree well hazard is high right now.

There is no easy way to identify if a particular tree has a dangerous well around it, so the best advice is to avoid trees. Most tree well accidents happen on ungroomed terrain, so the risk of an accident can be greatly reduced just by staying on groomed runs. Skiing with a partner and ensuring they are in sight at all times is also essential.

If you do fall in to a tree well, do whatever you can to keep your head above the surface of the snow, including rolling, grabbing tree branches or the tree trunk. If you become immersed, make a space around your face and protect your airway. Stay calm, and trust your partner is on the way.


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