Tree Well Immersion Can Happen At Resorts Too

by Greg Colquitt | November 8, 2018

So you like skiing trees?

Nice. You must be a decent skier, and you probably know a thing or two about how to find the best snow on the mountain even when it’s flooded with people, but the question is –are you an informed tree skier.

The Hidden Hazard of Skiing Trees

One of the most overlooked dangers of skiing in the trees are tree wells. A tree well diagramtree well is an area around the base of a tree where unsettled sugary snow accumulates and acts like quick sand, potentially sucking a person down sometimes as deep as ten feet below the perceived surface of the snow. As snow falls, air pockets form around the base of a tree and release water vapor directly up and out, turning the could-be settled snow into the aforementioned quicksand.
However, the real issue resides in the way people fall into tree wells–head first. On the way in there’s also a good chance a skier will knock some snow from the tree down on top of themselves. Now they’re head down under six feet of snow, running out of oxygen fast, and without rescue the result is death by Snow Immersion Suffocation, or SIS. This sounds terrifying, and it is, but is not something that should stop you from skiing in the trees.


How to Avoid Tree Well Immersion

Fortunately getting caught in a tree well is completely preventable.
First, never ski alone and always ski in sight. The old saying “No friends on a powder day” should be changed to “Find friends on a powder day”. Even though we pine for the deepest days and hate even the thought of someone stealing our line because we were too slow, you’re not much good flailing around in a tree well waiting for someone to save you. It ain’t gonna happen. When you ski with a partner, never lose sight. We often find ourselves waiting at the lift or the bottom of the run waiting for our friends, but it’s hard to dig someone out from half a mile away.
Second, be aware and react. If you’re going in, do everything you can to slow your roll. Bear hug the tree, grab branches, twist your body flat–just do anything to keep yourself from going head first. Snowboarders be particularly aware of sliding to a halt in a flat area and falling backwards. You may not be aware of your proximity to a tree well.
Finally, if you’re unsure, don’t go. Everyone is susceptible to tree well immersion. Even the most expert skiers find themselves in sticky spots, but if you’re uncomfortable with the possibility of SIS find some fresh corduroy on the groomers. Carving turns can be the most fun in the world.

Final Word

Let’s face it — resorts = people. To find the best snow we have to look in the trees otherwise it’s back to the same ole groomer that we’ve hit a thousand times. Find good turns in the woods, but just do us all a favor and don’t do it alone.

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