[VIDEO] Terrifying Tree Well Rescue Highlights Why You Should Always Ski With a Buddy in the Trees

SnowBrains |

Terrifying. It’s one of those superlatives websites use to get you to click. But in this case, it’s justified. It’s terrifying to think how quickly your day can change from shredding deep powder and having the time of your life to actually fighting for your life. It’s terrifying to imagine the thoughts going through that boarder’s mind. It’s terrifying to think what would have happened had that skier not been in the right place at the right time. Terrifying.

I just watched this twice, astonished by how lucky to be alive the snowboarder is. Both men were riding through trees in the Mount Baker, WA, sidecountry in extremely deep snow, and its pure serendipity that the rescuer skied over the buried boarder.

Despite finding myself urging the skier to move quicker while watching, he does everything right and saves this stranger’s life. I can’t imagine what was going through the boarder’s mind—he was rendered immobile by his powdery tomb.

Thank you to Francis Zuber for sharing this video, being in the right place at the right time, and for an expert rescue.

Tree well and deep snow suffocation are serious problems in the Western USA and Canada.

Incidents occur with deep snow accumulations and tree well immersions, where a skier or snowboarder falls into an area of deep, unconsolidated snow and becomes immobilized.

Since 2001, California has had more snow immersion deaths than any other state.

A tree well is a void or depression that forms around the base of a tree and most likely under the branches that hang from those trees, disguising the void. This void may contain a mix of low-hanging branches, loose snow, and air. While skiing or snowboarding, it is tough to determine if a tree well exists, so skiers and riders should treat every tree the same.

Skiers and snowboarders must understand the risks of deep snow, educate themselves, and strictly adhere to safety recommendations, including always skiing or riding within sight of a partner, especially when off a designated trail, within the trees, or in a gladed area.

Tree Well Fall. Image: Ski California
Tree Well Fall. Image: Ski California

Essential Safety Tips for Resort Guests

Each skier or snowboarder controls their level of risk. Only you can prevent this type of accident from happening. To minimize your risk, you must know how to travel safely with your partner(s) in these ungroomed deep-snow areas. Always ski or ride with a partner and within close sight.

Always stay in visual contact so your partner(s) can see you if you fall. Visual contact means stopping and watching your partner descend at all times, then proceeding downhill while they watch you at all times. It does no good if your partner is already waiting for you in the lift line while still descending the slope.

Stay close enough to either pull or dig out. Hold your breath while reading this if you have questions about what is “close enough” to assist someone in a tree well. The time before your partner needs air may be how long you have to pull or dig the person out of danger. Other factors, such as creating an air pocket or the entrapped skier’s position, may also affect this critical timeframe.

Remember, if you lose visual contact with your partner, you could lose your friend. It is essential to know that most people who have died in deep snow or tree well accidents had been skiing or riding with a partner at the time of their accident. Unfortunately, none of these partners had immediate visual contact, so they could not help promptly.

Use appropriate equipment to minimize risks. When skiing or snowboarding in high-risk areas for deep snow or tree wells, wear a helmet, enter the ski patrol’s phone number into your smartphone, and carry a whistle if you need to get someone’s attention if you become entrapped in deep snow or a tree well.

If you still have questions, contact your ski patrol. Ask your ski patrol about the current risks and conditions with deep snow at your local ski area before you explore risky terrain such as tree areas, glades, or off-trail terrain where deep snow and tree well risks exist.

Follow these helpful tips to stay safe on the Mountain. All the recent snowfall in California, Utah,  and the west, along with more in the forecast, makes for dangerous conditions, so always take necessary precautions and never venture out alone.

Stay Safe Out There. Image: Ski California
Stay Safe Out There. Image: Ski California

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