Tree wells: Be aware and stay alive

One of the most exciting parts of snowboarding is riding in the trees. Not only do trees make it easier to see where you’re going by providing a contrast with the white, they’re often in ungroomed areas, which means one thing: powder snow!

But you’ve also got to give trees some respect. Due to some high-profile deaths, including Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy (of the famous political family), most skiers and riders know that running into a tree is a very bad idea.

Did you know about the less obvious danger from trees, though? It’s called a “tree well.” Long story short, it’s a bit like the snowy version of quicksand. Get too close to a tree and you may fall into a mass of snow you can’t get out of, leading to death by suffocation.

The most obvious way to avoid a tree well is to stay on groomers and far away from trees. If you venture into areas with trees — not a bad idea, of course — then be sure to educate yourself. Take a buddy. Or better yet, two.

One good place to start reading is the article “‘Tree wells’ a deadly pitfall for skiers,” published in 2014. Despite the scary headline, the article takes a reasonable approach in laying out what can go wrong, in terms that aren’t sensationalistic. It does note, though that the Canadian Ski Patrol says 90 percent of people who fall into a tree well can’t get themselves out. Sobering stat, there.

What may be the leading resource on the subject, though, is something mentioned in the CBC article mentioned above. It’s Deep Snow Safety. Check it out.