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Skier Dies in Tree Well, Stevens Pass, WA - Page 2

post #31 of 33
Skiers warned of deep-snow hazard

CRAIG HILL; The News Tribune

Last updated: January 22nd, 2006 08:18 AM (PST)

As a longtime member of the Crystal Mountain ski patrol, John Macartney knows just how dangerous tree wells can be.

So when he saw two legs – one with a ski still attached – sticking out of the snow near a tree in Crystal’s Green Valley on Jan. 15, he knew he had to act quickly.

Tree wells are air pockets that form around trees in deep snow conditions like Northwest ski resorts are experiencing. When a skier falls into a tree well, the air pocket collapses, trapping the person in a snowy tomb. A skier can lose consciousness in as little as two minutes.

Four people have died in tree wells at Western Washington ski areas this season. The most recent case came Tuesday at Stevens Pass with the death of a 29-year-old Kenmore man.

Because the legs Macartney saw were slowly kicking, he knew he still had a chance to rescue the skier.

He kicked out of his skis and immediately sank to his waist in snow. He tried to pull the person from the snow. When he tried to dig an air tunnel, thick tree branches blocked him.

He needed help, but his wife, Laurie, had skied ahead a few minutes earlier and his other partner was still working his way back to the site. He was off duty so he had no radio to call the ski patrol.

Slowly, the legs stopped moving.

Macartney figures it took him five minutes to get the skier out of the tree well. When he did, he was stunned. There, unconscious with lips blue from the cold, was his wife.

“I was pretty shook,” Macartney said. “I’d figured she had skied down to the lift.”

Laurie Macartney’s jaw was clamped shut, so her husband gave her mouth-to-nose resuscitation until she woke up.

After spending three days in the hospital, Laurie Macartney is recovering from pneumonia at her Redmond home.

“It’s too bad she got sick,” her husband said. “But it beats the alternative.”

Paul Baugher, Crystal’s ski patrol and risk management director, wants to raise awareness of NARSIDs, or non-avalanche-related snow immersion deaths.

While skiers and snowboarders often are familiar with the risk of an avalanche, they’re usually not as familiar with the less dramatic risks of deep snow like tree wells. This is a mistake, Baugher said.

Ski patrols have almost eliminated the risk of avalanches at North American ski resorts. But there’s little they can do about tree wells other than try to educate their customers. Crystal posts signs at the ticket counter and at other locations.

Baugher said that if you stick to groomed runs, you won’t have any trouble. If you want to ski among trees, don’t pick areas where they’re tightly clumped.

“And always ski with a partner,” Baugher said. “Keep each other in sight at all times. If you lose sight of your partner, don’t think you’ll just meet them at the lift. Find them. If you wait too long, it could be too late.”

Even the most expert skiers can fall into a tree well. Laurie Macartney is a member of the Crystal ski patrol. John Mcartney has had to pull himself out of one.

After two snow-immersion deaths this season, Mount Baker posted tree well safety information on its Web site, mtbaker.us. As an experiment, workers placed 10 volunteers in tree wells. None could rescue themselves.
That doesn’t surprise Laurie Macartney. She believes she fell into the tree well when she lost a ski while making her third run of the day on Cold Face.

“I was upside-down and completely vertical,” she said. “I wiggled around to get a little air space. I yelled, but that did not work. A lot of thoughts went through my mind and I got angry. I thought this is a bad way to go. … Then I slowly went unconscious.”

The last thing she remembers was moving her legs above the snow, hoping to catch somebody’s attention.

“I credit her for doing that,” John Macartney said. “If she hadn’t moved her legs, I probably wouldn’t have seen her. Nobody would have seen her.”

• Stay on groomed trails.
• If you tree ski, pick an area where the trees aren’t close together.
• Keep your distance from the trees.
• Ski with a partner, and keep each other in sight at all times.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8742
post #32 of 33
That's just freaky Ruxpercnd!
post #33 of 33
Over the past several weeks, we have had the experience of skiing in some unusually deep snow at Crystal Mtn., Wa. It is not necessarily fluffy powder; it's kind of heavier, so it's harder to escape or move around in it when buried. We just need to make it real clear to folks to watch out for each other.

Here is a link to some chatter about self extraction:

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