TREE WELLS: The hidden hazard every skier and snowboarder needs to know | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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TREE WELLS: The hidden hazard every skier and snowboarder needs to know

FILE PHOTO - A winter landscape
Image Credit: Pixabay
January 10, 2021 - 9:00 AM

If you ski or snowboard, you might already be aware of this hidden, potentially-fatal hazard and yet every winter, but first responders are called to rescue people stuck in tree wells.

A tree well is an area of loose snow around a tree trunk that can pose a risk to outdoor winter adventures, according to Adventure Smart.

Tree Wells & SIS Safety: What is a Treewell or SIS Accident from SIS Safety Videos on Vimeo.

“A tree well/ snow immersion suffocation accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls – usually headfirst – into a tree well or deep loose snow and becomes immobilized and trapped under the snow and suffocates,” according to Deep Snow Safety.

Twenty per cent of all skiing and snowboarding fatalities involve suffocation in tree wells.

Without help, people may suffocate once they become trapped and the odds of survival are low, according to Deep Snow Safety. It reports 90% of people trapped in a tree well could not rescue themselves.

“If a partner is not there for immediate rescue, the skier or rider may die very quickly from suffocation - in many cases, he or she can die as quickly as someone can drown in water,” the website reported.

Ed Henczel, with Central Okanagan Search and Rescue, said some of the best things to do to prevent tree well accidents is to stay in a group and bring a whistle.

Adventure Smart recommends steering clear of tree trunks and low hanging branches.

Big White Ski Resort also offers advice on what to do if you get stuck in a tree well:

  • Yell or use a whistle to get your partner's attention.
  • Keep your head above the surface of the snow and do whatever you can to achieve this including rolling, grabbing tree branches or the tree trunk. If possible, keep your feet below the level of your head.
  • If you become immersed, make a space around your face and protect your airway but resist the urge to struggle, it could compromise your airspace and entrap you further.
  • Stay calm to conserve air.
  • Trust your partner is on their way.
  • If possible, use your cell phone to call ski patrol and save their number before you go riding.

What to do if your partner falls into a tree well:

  • Don’t leave to get help, stay with your partner
  • Call for additional resources. Use a whistle or yell for assistance. If possible, call ski patrol or the resort's emergency phone number.
  • Evaluate the scene safety for yourself.
  • Immediately begin snow immersion rescue efforts.
  • Go directly for the airway, and keep it clear, be careful not to knock more snow into the hole. Clear any snow from the airway and continue necessary first aid or extrication efforts.
  • Do not try to pull the victim out the way they fell in. Instead, determine where their head is and tunnel in from the side.
  • When tunnelling directly for the airway be careful not to knock more snow into the hole. Continue expanding the tunnel to the airway until you can extricate their body.

Most tree well accidents happen during or just after big snowstorms or storm cycles. Typically, the fresher the snow, the higher the risk, according to Deep Snow Safety.

Tree well accidents are also most likely on ungroomed terrain. For more information and additional safety tips on tree well accident prevention, visit the Deep Snow Safety website.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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