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PNW WARNING!!! More Death, MORE DANGER

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 
PNW WARNING, More death, high danger!
There has now been three in bounds deaths this year at Baker, with the last one occuring last night do to a tree well. Another person was found alive at 7pm.

Do the the insane amount of snow that has fallen in such a short period, all of the tree wells are rotten with lots of unconsolidated snow. In short if you manage to fall in one you will not be able to get out.

Finally with the warm front today and the coresponding spike in freezing levels, there is currently wide spread natrual releases on a VERY LARGE scale.

Baker will be closed for the enitre day inorder to do control work. If the inboundries area needs that much work, just imagine how instable the backcountry is.

BE SAFE OUT THERE!
post #2 of 37
Thanks for the heads up.
post #3 of 37
Tree wells are hellishly frightening if you're skiing alone...just imagine...*shudder*
post #4 of 37
Please describe what a tree well is, or why they are perilous when there are big snows. I realize that it is the "shadow" of lesser amount of snow that a tree has under it, but how do you become trapped in it or die from being unable to escape from it?
post #5 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by buz
Please describe what a tree well is, or why they are perilous when there are big snows. I realize that it is the "shadow" of lesser amount of snow that a tree has under it, but how do you become trapped in it or die from being unable to escape from it?
Buz,

Welcome...

When it snows in Cleveland you'll notice the snow doesn't go all the way up to a tree trunk. Now imagine this situation with 10 feet of snow or more as Grant describes. The peril is as the skier tracks near that tree the "treewell" can collapse throwing the skier against the tree and into the "treewell"...like falling into a well, thus the term. In the most extreme situation the snow will collapse upon the skier, as in an avalanche covering and suffocating. Other times the skier may freeze to death or worse if undiscovered....getting out unassisted is impossible.

Great post Grant

Stay safe out there.....

No such problems here at the moment I assure you.
post #6 of 37
A little bit more explanation regarding the tree wells. As above, you have a tree with branches that hold the snow and prevent the snow from accumulating near the trunk of the tree. The snow accumulates around the tree in the shape of a wall of snow. When you get huge dumps of snow like they do at Mt. Baker, for example Baker received 87" in 5 days, then that wall of surrounding snow is like a big wall of unstable material. If a boarder or skier happens to ski/board near a tree and collapses that wall of snow and falls into the tree well it's almost like being in a quicksand hole. You can't climb out because the snow just keeps sliding in. Anyone who has every wiped out in heavy deep powder and then has to dig themselves out knows how exhuasting it can be, just imagine that plus falling into a pit that collapses on top of you. In most cases a huge and heavy wall of snow collapses onto the skier who ends up in a tree well and the snow is almost like cement and can trap and suffocate the person.
post #7 of 37
It's so bad up there that they just cancelled the Winter Ride (ski bus) program for tomorrow.

Another tree well problem is that the branches hang down with huge loads of snow and can hide a person stuck inside. If you're hanging upside down from your skis or a board you are in extreme trouble.

I watched as a friend I was skiing with fell and slid into a tree well. He completely disappeared. He was unable to move when I reached him and it was a real effort to get him out. He was unharmed, but I hate to imagine what might have happened if I hadn't been looking when he fell.
post #8 of 37
The other scary thing about treewells is that people can't hear you yelling for help under the snow. I was stuck in one at Alta a few years ago - I could hear my husband and friend standing nearby talking, but they couldn't hear my screams because the snow muffled the sound. I eventually worked my way out, but it's pretty scary. We now carry whistles with us just in case.
post #9 of 37

Tree Wells

A friend of mine died a couple of years ago at JH after falling into a tree well. From what I was told he was not skiing in the woods, but was on an open trail that had clump of trees in the middle of the trail. The one friend went around the trees, while the other either caught an edge and slid into the tree well or he tried to ski through the clump of trees. One way or another he ended up going in head first into the tree well and the snow on the branches fell on top of him. He ended up sufficating. His friend skied down aways and waited for him, but after a short wait, he thought he had already skied by, so he skied down to the lift and waited with no avail. A short time later, someone found his ski boot sticking out of the snow under the trees. They were unable to revive him.

People shouldn't die while skiing!
post #10 of 37
Thread Starter 
Never ever tree ski in deep powder alone. Never wait for your budy at the lift, always make sure they are at the bottom when you come out.

If you do end up in a tree well, rember that unlike avalanches you are dealing with unconsolidated snow so remeber the following:

1. DO NOT PANICK! The majority of skiers that die in tree wells die because they panick nocking more loose snow ontop of them selves.

2. slowly make an airpocket with your hands.

3. Slowly wiggle your boddy around to compress the snow around you to make a larger air pocket.

4. Try to remove your board / skis and poles and use them to pull you up.
post #11 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtbakerskier
Never ever tree ski in deep powder alone. Never wait for your budy at the lift, always make sure they are at the bottom when you come out.

If you do end up in a tree well, rember that unlike avalanches you are dealing with unconsolidated snow so remeber the following:

1. DO NOT PANIC! The majority of skiers that die in tree wells die because they panick nocking more loose snow ontop of them selves.

2. slowly make an airpocket with your hands.

3. Slowly wiggle your boddy around to compress the snow around you to make a larger air pocket.

4. Try to remove your board / skis and poles and use them to pull you up.
Excellent advice.

Thanks.
post #12 of 37
I've gotten stuck in treewells about 3 times over the last few seasons. Until you've had it happen to you, it's hard to imagine how dangerous it is. 2 of the times, I was skiing with others, so luckily they were able to help.

When I first heard about the dangers of treewells, I couldnt understand how it could be a problem. You just don't realize how easy it is to become trapped till it happens to you.

I always carry a whistle which I can use to call for help, just in case. The hi pitched whistle carries a lot farther than the human voice. And as others have said, don't ski alone in heavily treed areas unless you can be easily spotted from a nearby trail or lift. All it takes is one slip up and you could be in big trouble.
post #13 of 37
Mtbakerskier - thanks for the advice on what to do if one falls into a tree well. I didn't know what to do if I fell into a tree well (other than to get out of it), so I appreciated your post.

On tree skiing, I've heard that wearing goggles is prefered over sunglasses because they give your eyes better protection from the branches. Makes sense. I think wearing a helmet while skiing in the trees is a good idea, too.

Now here's a question, and I'm interested in what others think: There's been a lot of mention recently on this board about the merit of skiing with an avy beacon, even if one skis inbounds. Wouldn't it also make sense to wear an avy beacon, and have your ski buddies wearing their beacons while skiing in the trees, in case someone becomes trapped in a tree well?
post #14 of 37
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave86

Now here's a question, and I'm interested in what others think: There's been a lot of mention recently on this board about the merit of skiing with an avy beacon, even if one skis inbounds. Wouldn't it also make sense to wear an avy beacon, and have your ski buddies wearing their beacons while skiing in the trees, in case someone becomes trapped in a tree well?
YES!!!!!!!! MOST DEFINATLY!

I have seen more inbounds burials, and slides than I care to rember. If you do end up in a tree well, and patrol knows that you are wearing one, it will greatly aid the search process.

The other option is to make sure that you have a RECCO transmitter attached to at least one piece fo your gear. This system excells when it comes to find inbounds victims.
post #15 of 37
MBS, thanks for your posts on this subject. Your expertise on this subject, as well as avy knoweledge, is a true asset to the skiing community here and on TGR.:
post #16 of 37
Lots of good recovery/prevention info posted so far - this is a very dangerous thing that most people do not think about. There was a death last year at Deer Valley (skier) due to this just off of a groomed run.

Snowboarders are at a much bigger danger from this, although both skiers and boarders are victims. With a snowboard on you can not move your feet independently to try to reposition yourself, and also no way to kick off your bindings. Might as well have your feet tied together.
post #17 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtbakerskier
The other option is to make sure that you have a RECCO transmitter attached to at least one piece fo your gear. This system excells when it comes to find inbounds victims.
Can you elaborate on this? Why is having a recco refelctor particlarly helpful inbounds? How common on recco detectors amoung ski patrol groups?

Whistle, good idea, even in bounds with all the snow we've been getting up here.
post #18 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisInSeattle
Can you elaborate on this? Why is having a recco refelctor particlarly helpful inbounds? How common on recco detectors amoung ski patrol groups?

Whistle, good idea, even in bounds with all the snow we've been getting up here.
Check out reccona.com to see if your mountain is covered. You can pickup RECCO reflectors and attach them to your jacket, pants, or ski boots and some gear is started to come with them preinstalled.
post #19 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Noodler
Check out reccona.com to see if your mountain is covered. You can pickup RECCO reflectors and attach them to your jacket, pants, or ski boots and some gear is started to come with them preinstalled.
I have a recco reflector on my jacket. And my home mountain (Crystal) is covered.

But I'm curious how this would help me if I, say, fell into a tree well inbounds. If I'm with someone who saw me, presumably I wouldn't need a refelctor. But if I fall and nobody sees me, will ski patrol roll by at 6pm with a detector turned on looking for people in trouble?

I understand basically how recco works. I'm just curious how it 'excells' inbounds. Is it just that it's a lot easier and cheaper to have a reflector than it is to have an avy transeiver?
post #20 of 37
Tree wells are a real danger. I was in one again just a week ago for a couple minutes. I often ski dense woods in fresh powder and storm ski. Our area gets huge dumps each season. Most of the time I am alone simply because there usually isn't anyone else to ski with. Even on days when there is a group around, one often easily gets separated and everyone is so interested in getting all they can that few are going to wait around at lifts for others to maybe show up. I carry a whistle in a place easily unzipped. And can release my bindings with solid force of a pole.

However I have been stuck in tree wells before and applying that force to release a binding is sometimes difficult due to the looseness of ones ski in the fluff and leverage. One of the worst problems with tree wells is getting a ski caught underneath branches. One ski may be stuck under the snow by a branch while the other is flailing about above as one is on your back. Pushing against the snow one is laying on can be futile especially in fluff so that is nearly impossible to re-orient. One can use ski poles to help provide something to push off, but when the fluff is really light that hardly offers much resistance. The key for me is being able to release a binding up in the air without bracing it against anything just using a ski pole.

Here is a scenario and some advice. It is very easy to get one's skis twisted into awkward positions when falling into a tree well. One of the skis may end up suddenly stopped by the trunk or branches while the other continues ahead while one's body collapses into the snow. Thus one may be on one's back with the left ski and leg bent to the outside, tip to left stuck in a branch near the trunk while the right ski is partly up in the air near the edge of the well. Since the left ski cannot move, one must somehow move the right ski into the direction of the left ski or any movement to get off your back will be unlikely. However the length of the right ski from boot to tail may not allow much movement because the position of the tree well wall may interfere with rotation. Accordingly at the last moment before falling into a well I fight natural reactions to continue using my skis to steer somehow and instead make an effort to keep my feet and skis tightly together.

...David
post #21 of 37
Things here are pretty wild here in the PNW. Baker is now closed until Wed... Gutsy call. While checking their website, I noticed that their mountain safety page at http://www.mtbaker.us/safety/index.html had a more in depth discussion of mtbakerskier's earlier comments. Worth reading.

to mtbakerskier for firing up this thread. Thanks!
post #22 of 37
If you are buried and want to be found alive have a transceiver on. Most all pro patrollers have avalanche transceivers on their persons as part of their normal gear. They will do a transceiver search when first arriving on a avalanche site or a possible burial site.

If you want your body found be satisified with wearing a Recco. Most resorts have a receiver or two on-hand in their main patrol station(s). They will take it out along with the probe lines when doing a recovery search. The receiver is too big and only serves one function, it is never where you need it when you need it. Great for finding your lost skis but NEVER count on it as a replacement for a avalanche tranceiver.
post #23 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by dave_SSS
Tree wells are a real danger. I was in one again just a week ago for a couple minutes. I often ski dense woods in fresh powder and storm ski. Our area gets huge dumps each season. Most of the time I am alone simply because there usually isn't anyone else to ski with...


"Prevention of falling into a tree well is all-important because the odds of surviving deep snow immersion are low." http://www.mtbaker.us/safety/index.html
Read the entire article if you haven't yet. Glad you are still around but I hope you continue to be for a long time.
post #24 of 37
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisInSeattle
I have a recco reflector on my jacket. And my home mountain (Crystal) is covered.

But I'm curious how this would help me if I, say, fell into a tree well inbounds. If I'm with someone who saw me, presumably I wouldn't need a refelctor. But if I fall and nobody sees me, will ski patrol roll by at 6pm with a detector turned on looking for people in trouble?

I understand basically how recco works. I'm just curious how it 'excells' inbounds. Is it just that it's a lot easier and cheaper to have a reflector than it is to have an avy transeiver?

Recco, allows searchs to cover a large area very quickly as the device works simmular to an avalanch traciever when looking for someone. Since most skiers dont where beacons inbounds, but may have a RECCO reflector attached to there gear it makes the system ideal for helping to find missing people in tree wells or inbounds slides.

HOWEVER it is not a substitute for wearing and using a tranciever, it is just a good backup measure incase shit hits the fan.



As far as avy conditions go, it has been cooling up there for the last 24 hours, so extreme danger my ass. It is currently 19 degrees up there wich is ideal for stabelizing the snow pack. Im going to head up, dig a pit, access the conditions and then ski
post #25 of 37
Im going to head up, dig a pit, access the conditions and then ski

What do you mean by Dig a pit?
post #26 of 37
[quote=Lostboy]"Prevention of falling into a tree well is all-important because the odds of surviving deep snow immersion are low." http://www.mtbaker.us/safety/index.html
Read the entire article if you haven't yet. QUOTE]

Interesting article

"In an experiment in which 10 volunteers were temporarily placed in a simulated tree well, none could rescue themselves."

I have been in a few myself. The only time I was alone I ended up upside down with my skis in the branches. I managed to do an inverted crunch, released my bindings and then was hanging from the Salomon safty straps (this was a while ago) Fortunately, they had a quick release. That dropped me headfirst down the thing, but I got turned around and climbed out using the tree and the skis.

We had a fatality at Bachelor a few years ago. It took weeks to find the girl. When they did, she was head first down a well so far that the tree was marked off as one which had been checked.
post #27 of 37
by dig a pit he means a snow pit to check out snow layers and assess the avalanche conditions.
http://www.avalanche.org/~lsafc/TUTO...ESTS/TESTS.HTM
has some information about digging a snow pit
post #28 of 37
Some additional links that shed some light on pit digging (just a quick google).

http://www.fsavalanche.org/slideguid...s/slide11.html
http://www.fsavalanche.org/slideguid...s/slide14.html
http://www.fsavalanche.org/slideguid...s/slide15.html

http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Tr...HastyMenu.html

http://www.mountain-guiding.com/aval...ction_JPG.html

My personal experience is limited, so hopefully Grant, Leelau, Bob and/or others with more experience will a) chime in some more and b) post some decent pics of layers in a snow pit. It can be mind-blowing. The snowpack is way more complex than you'd think if all you've ever done is look at the surface. Seeing a cross section with a few feet of snow perched on a layer of standing toothpick-like ice crystals or hoar, - or the remnants of water channels - ready to slide at the touch of a finger can be sobering.

Without spending a bunch of time, I was unable to find good closeups of different layers/structures. Anyone have any good pics? Videos of various pit tests?
post #29 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by spindrift
Anyone have any good pics? Videos of various pit tests?
Teton Gravity Research had a very nice set of videos on digging pits, the rutschblock test, and how to use a beacon. I found them last year, but can't seem to find them again. I'll keep searching.
post #30 of 37
Good advice above. I'll add:
5. If you're going to fall and you can't avoid it, do whatever you can to keep your head above your feet. I fallen a few times in tree wells or similar things and found you can usually get your skis off if they're under you. If you're sprawled out on your side or upside down it becomes a lot harder.

A few years ago a friend and I were touring. He went off the track and fell into a tree well. He was about 50 feet from me when it happened and I couldn't hear him at all. I ended turning around a few seconds later and noticed him attempting to dig himself out. I ended ok, but he would have had a bitch of time getting out by himself.
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