Originally Posted by DanoT
My worst day happen 40 years ago and I posted he story about 5 years ago in a tree well thread. Since it is the start of a new season, thinking about tree well safety is probably a good idea, although this is a bad story.
I'm not sure how to do a link to the story so I will just paste it:
Ok here is my tree well story. It is tragic and very bazaar...and it happened 35 years ago.
It was my first year ski bumming at Tod Mountain (now called Sun Peaks) and my second year skiing in the West. I had no clue about tree wells and no thoughts as to how thick the snow pack was that we were skiing on.
I got on the chairlift that morning with a guy that I had seen around a couple of times earlier that season. I learned that his nick name was Peaches and he was a former Pro Ski Patroller who had recently got married and moved to Vancouver and now had a real job. I did not know that he was a Guest Patroller that day ( I did not even know what a Guest Patroller was).
Peaches invited me to join him skiing his favourite tree run, Gill's Hill, which was not on the ski area map. So off we went enjoying the more than a foot of fresh snow that had fallen in the past few days. When we got to a terraced or benched area we stopped on the flat top of a bench. We could see one more bench below us and then the 5 Mile beginner run below that. I now knew where I was on the mountain so I thanked Peaches for showing me the run and I took off leading the way down the run for the first time. As I looked over my shoulder to see if Peaches was following me I could see that he was actually going along the flat part of the bench at right angles to the fall line toward some tighter trees at slow speed and slightly off balance.
A couple of turns later as I hit the transition to the next flat bench top I started to lose my balance but I fought to recover and didn't fall. In hindsight if I had fallen I may have been close enough to Peaches crash that I might have realized what had happened to him. Instead I continued on down to the 5 Mile run and waited for Peaches. When he didn't emerge from the trees a number of thoughts entered my mind as I called out to him without getting a response. How far is my voice carrying? Is he hurt? I did thank him for the run and did that also mean good bye and see you later so no waiting for each other? Did he have some other secret way to finish the run? It was too far to climb back up in deep snow so I waited long enough for him to put skis back on if that was the problem and then I skied to the chairlift.
I asked the liftee if he had seen Peaches get on the chair recently and the answer was no. So while riding the chair I debated with myself if I should contact the Patrol. I eventually decided that I really didn't have any actual information to give to the Patrol so instead I skied back to the spot where I last seen Peaches. What I found in the flat light were his tracks on the flat of the bench that ended just above a good sized evergreen tree. As I already said I had no idea about tree well or soft snow danger so I assumed that he had done a kick turn in his own tracks and gone in the other direction and the flat light made the rest of his tracks sort of hard to distinguish. What had really happened is that he fell into the well, likely hit his head on the tree and all of the snow laden tree branches unloaded on him.
I went in for lunch and asked around if anyone had seen Peaches but no one had. I even went up to
a Ski Patroller and related my story. He said don't worry Peaches is an excellent skier and probably had some other exit out of the woods that he took. Later in the day I asked a cafeteria worker if she had seen Peaches and she said she had. When I asked if she had seen him in the am or pm she paused for a moment and said pm. She was wrong, but I did not know this so I assumed that everything with Peaches was ok since we had done our run in the morning.
About 5 days later I get a knock on my door in the evening and it is the Ski Patrol along with a Volunteer Patroller who is also an RCMP Search and Rescue Dog Handler. It turns out that Peaches had been staying, as he often did, with a friend down the valley about 20 minutes from the mountain. When Peaches did not return to the friend's place the first few nights he did not worry as Peaches would often overnight at the mountain if there was a late party. But after 5 days he called up to the mountain to see what had happened.
We went up the 5 Mile in snow cats and sled and then hiked up to the lower bench at which point the rescue dog was let loose. The dog went straight to the completely buried body and started digging. Peaches, who was 6 feet tall, was upside down on the low side of the tree with his ski bases pointed to the sky but covered by a foot of snow. His head was 7 feet below the surface and his nose was plugged with snow and there was a cut on the top of his head.
A short time later I got subpoenaed to appear at a coroner's inquest. My testimony was pretty much what you have just read. The head of the Ski Patrol also got a subpoena and it was revealed that Peaches had signed in as a Guest Patrol and that his street shoes were in the Patrol Shack and his car in the parking lot, yet it had taken 5 days and a phone call from a friend down the valley to discover that Peaches had gone missing. The head of the Ski Patrol was devastated by events and as well Peaches was a good friend of his. The head of the Patrol resigned and took up Nordic skiing.
I determined that I needed to increase my big mountain awareness so I took a first aid course and became a Volunteer Ski Patroller and later a Pro Patroller. I didn't stick with the patrolling because for me it turned skiing into a job and not enjoyment but that is another story.
One thing people should realize about tree wells is that they are not really empty, but are filled with the lightest of snow. The snow near a tree well will be very soft and light from skis not tracking up and compressing the snow, but inside the well the snow is even lighter because as the snowflakes fall around a tree the flake's decent is slowed as they hit higher up tree branches and then the flakes land more softly.
I hope this post and this thread help others pursue mountain respect and awareness.