François Pugh

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If odds are good that someone will come along and find you in the next five minutes, it's preferable to stay still and not drop another 15 feet down the well. If it's unlikely that anyone is going to come by in the next 15 minutes, it's up to you. Don't lose hold of your skis; they can be useful. There are only two ways out: the trunk, and the denser snow outside the well.
 

cantunamunch

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So, what, just stay still and hope someone finds you ...?
No, evaluate, plan an outcome and work to the plan.

Priorities are: a) air b) daylight and communication to others c) regaining ability to move d) getting out.

Whistling is great but if you're head-first into the well you won't even be able to tell which way the surface is. Only the first foot or so is light enough to tell a difference -on a sunny day- and if you're bent in a way that you can't see that then you have zero cues as to which way is up. Finding the trunk of the tree is your best hope (assuming *it* isn't bent too, which is quite likely if your groping hand finds a sapling next to a bigger tree). That basketball-sized cavity around your face that you managed to clear so you're not inhaling tree well snow? Good job but it's going to turn into an ice mask in 20 minutes as your exhalations freeze, better get started on part b). Follow the trunk back up with your hand. Oh, daylight is probably somewhere above your shoulder blades, behind your back? Well, you can't turn because your skis have you locked in, and you definitely have no leverage to release the bindings. Do you have a tool to clear an airway and path to daylight with? Your bare hands are probably no good because most people can't reach 2 feet above their shoulderblades.

Did I mention that, every second you're trying to dig to daylight with one hand, the other hand has to defend that little bubble of airspace from collapsing?

So, let's say you got lucky (I did) and manage to dig your way out to the surface by doing a backwards bend and a ski pole digout. You're still deffo not out of the woods, but *now* you can whistle. Or you can work to part c). Which may be exceedingly difficult as evergreen branches tend to catch on binding parts and jam them in unexpected ways. Assuming you can even reach your bindings.
 

markojp

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So, what, just stay still and hope someone finds you ...?
Think quick sand if you're in deep head first. I'm not making this stuff up. When coaching off piste all mountain skiing programs, we always have a session with patrol to go over hazards and terrain/risk awareness. This is straight from their book.
 

Andy Mink

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Suddenly, tree skiing doesn't seem so fun. All good points, though.
 

markojp

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Suddenly, tree skiing doesn't seem so fun. All good points, though.
It's fun for sure! Statistically it's pretty darn safe. Skiing in the trees vs. skiing in the trees on days when tree well dangers are very real are two different things. I think what's on the table here is simple awareness and risk management.
 

Fishbowl

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Think quick sand if you're in deep head first. I'm not making this stuff up. When coaching off piste all mountain skiing programs, we always have a session with patrol to go over hazards and terrain/risk awareness. This is straight from their book.
Then their book will only save you when rescue is at hand. The rest of the time it will sentence you to a slow miserable death of traumatic asphyxia or hypothermic exposure.
 

Monique

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This is the classic dilemma in any emergency......stay put and wait to be rescued, or attempt self rescue?
True, but as @cantunamunch states, the biggest issue is air. Wait around if I have the usual supply of oxygen, as I could last season? Sure. Wait around if I can't breathe? That seems insane.

I'm claustrophobic anyway, so I don't even know what I would do if I were truly stuck in a tree well.

I don't have stats on tree well deaths, but I suspect they are less common than fatalities from collisions with a tree (thus my favorite sign, "Caution! Trees don't move!"). And it's rare to ski trees fast enough to get that kind of momentum (though to be fair, widely spaced trees tend to have big wide trees with even bigger, wider tree wells). Anyway, I still figure tree skiing is safer than groomer skiing, especially at the speed many of us can ski groomers.

Suffocating in a tree well sounds horrific, but I'm not sure internal bleeding or a crushed skull are actually more pleasant ...
 

Monique

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On the Mt. Baker video I linked above, the Crystal Mountain patrol director pointed out that tree well deaths make up 20% of skiing fatalities.
WOW. I would not have thought that (obviously).
 

markojp

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Then their book will only save you when rescue is at hand. The rest of the time it will sentence you to a slow miserable death of traumatic asphyxia or hypothermic exposure.
They know their stuff, and sure, there are huge variations in incident circumstanced, but as mentioned above, the risk is real whether we want to admit it or not. The pnw is ripe terrain for tree well risk.

Crystal lost a retired pro patroller a few years back... within site of the gondola but no one saw him go in. . Alpental lost a skier within site of a chairlift. People saw it happen, but he passed before being dug out. I think Bachelor had a tree well fatality last season as well.


Again, tree wells aren't a big issue in different areas of the country, but they can be here. Not everyday, but on big deep days, it needs to be part of everyone's hill awareness . Part of any safety training here for ski schools and advanced all mountain/freeride classes will deal with it. Part of navigating the hill safely is know when, where, and what is a possible outcome and make your choices according to your acceptable risk threshold. This isn't an argument for or against anything, it just is what it is.
 
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pchewn

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And if tree wells aren't enough to worry about there are these on Mt Bachelor: That's a 2-1/2 foot diameter X 9 feet deep hole in the snow caused by escaping hot air from the volcano. They pop up here and there on the mountain. Patrol tries to mark them, but they are ever-changing. I don't know of any reports of people dying in them, but I've seen at least two people catch their ski/board on them and fall....



 

Pete in Idaho

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On a day that tree wells are deeper (after a dump) use some common sense. If you are skiing into the trees and can't see your second turn or your third then do go in there. Only ski where you don't have to get right next to a well. Of course knowing the area helps with this and if you are skiing a new area then only go into an area where you can see all the turns that are coming at you. Don't go ducking and brushing trees where you don't know the terrain or the conditions.

While I was working as an instructor at Homewood we lost two boarders one night both head lst into a well, they were not riding togcether (both were alone) and were about 150 yards apart. A real tragedy. Both died of hypothermia, so probably if they would have had a partner we would have know where they were riding and may have found them in time. I helped with the search and later discovered that I was about 500 yards from the right area, pretty sad. If you insist on skiing or riding alone off piste at least tell someone or leave a note in your car visible from the outside and state who you are and where you will be. I know this sounds stupid but the old feeling, "it will never happen to me" doesn't apply 100% of the time.

I ski trees by myself once inawhile but only if I know the area, it is not really hard or steep skiing and is an area that is not set off alone and not skied very much.
 

oldschoolskier

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Sobering insight. Now that I am older, mitigating the risks seem a lot easier. The question become how do we get this to happen with those that have more confidence than brains to prevent the easily avoidable incidents.

Not saying all could be prevented, but some as some have mentioned.
 

noncrazycanuck

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I ski a fair amount by myself in the trees, however I ski as a cautious old guy.
A few of my friends never made it out of the trees, so I prefer taking that approach.
it can happen to anyone: gear, fitness, radios, whistles, partners may not do you much good while upside down in a well.
But overall the drive to the hill is really more dangerous.
 

Guy in Shorts

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Would like to be that 92 year old cruising in the powder getting quickly swallowed up for an idyllic ending.
 

Whitepine

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I keep a whistle on my jacket zipper pull. I don't like the odds of me being able to dig in a pocket and get the whistle to my face without losing it.

I don't even know how much it helps to ski with a partner, unless you're staying exactly in each other's tracks at exactly the same pace - and then, will you notice when the person behind you disappears?

I don't know if it really helps, but I've been doing decline situps at increasingly upright angles. Maybe it will help me get out.

I got partially stuck in a tree well last spring. These were in very thinly spaced trees - not even a glade, really - and even though I wasn't fully submersed, my feet were in the snow uphill of my upper body, and it was hell on wheels to try to pop the binding or get the ski to a more favorable position. So I started yelling for help, but even though people were skiing a well populated traverse maybe 10 ft above my position, they couldn't hear me until I blew my whistle, and even then were confused for a bit. Without them, I felt fully stuck - in good repair (except for a knee strain I noticed later in the day) and with my head and upper body fully out of the snow, but still stuck. It was disconcerting.

I suspect that if you're skiing trees, you're accepting some level of risk, even if you're very careful.
What are decline situps?
 

Monique

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What are decline situps?
They're situps where your head is lower than your feet. You can buy a dedicated bench, but my gym has an attachment for an adjustable bench, so I have more options. I've been doing them at 45* and 55*. Some do them up to full vertical.

As someone above said, probably won't do much in a tree well. It does do a lot for core stability while skiing, though.
 

Sibhusky

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I just got our mountain's newsletter. They've done some glading work, which was much needed. Tree density here has been an increasing issue. Especially in the tree farms area of the back which was nice for kids in the past. Normally, the trees there would start out pretty dense and get less dense as the winter wore on. In spite of two really snowy winters back to back, the trees had grown so much that the smaller ones weren't getting subsumed.
 

Doby Man

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To keep the natural beauty of tree wells safe, we need to keep people from skiing into them. In such an otherwise pristine environment, there is nothing uglier than the hack job someone clawing for their life will leave behind. Have you ever noticed that when people can’t breath, suddenly everything is all about them? Paleeze!
 

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