Check out our interview at KATU treewell hazards
What’s a Treewell?
A treewell is a ring of fluffy, unconsolidated snow that forms around tree trunks. The boughs of the tree shelter the area, so not as much snow accumulates there. The bows also block sunlight, so the snow does not consolidate well, even several days after a big dump.
What is the Risk to Skiers and Riders?
Skier gets too close, the snow gives way and they tumble. Because they are attached to their boards, their feet stay near the surface, but their head and torso sink into the fluffy snow. Once that happens, it is extremely difficult to get out. Several years ago, a Canadian group did a study where a bunch of fit college kids jumped into treewells. 90% of them could not get out without help!
And Then You Freeze to Death?
The risk once in a treewell is that you will suffocate. Snow packs in around you and can freeze to form a death mask of ice. Or you can inhale so much fluffy snow that you drown. This can happen in minutes. If you don’t suffocate, you’ll have a couple of hours before you are overcome by hypothermia.
What can you do to Survive?
Grab hold of the tree to prevent sinking deeper. Pack out an air space around your face. Don’t struggle; that causes snow to pack around you more. Use the tree to raise yourself if you can. Release your bindings if you can, but you usually can’t reach them. Otherwise, conserve your energy and wait for your buddies to find you.
What’s the Best Prevention?
First, recognize the risk. Always ski with a buddy and keep your buddy in clear view. That means skiing side by side like in dual slalom. If your buddy is behind you, you can’t see them fall in a tree well.
Carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. Don’t use pole straps so that your hands will be free to move through the snow. You also can wear an avalung or other emergency breathing device.