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Any good tree well stories out there?

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

 I'm having a hard time finding a tree well I could drown in. But. . . .

post #2 of 23
Not cool.
post #3 of 23
Go to Revelstoke Mountain Resort's home page and you will find a link to some very good info on tree wells.
post #4 of 23
I have done quite a bit of skiing in British Columbia, and I can attest to the fact that they have tree wells you could almost lose a bus in.  They often get more than 60' of snow over the course of a winter, and with the huge evergreens they have the tree wells are not to be messed with.  I spent a very scary 20 minutes upside-down fighting for my life on my first trip up there, and since then I never stop uphill of a tree.

On a local note, I skier died in a tree well at Wolf Creek early this season, and that was before they had much base.
post #5 of 23
post #6 of 23
I was looking for some powder the other day after the mountain had been skied out, and stupidly ventured alone into some glades here at Whistler--I could see lots of treewells, and could just imagine how many could have been laying in hiding. Scary stuff, those tree wells. I'm not really interested in going into the glades alone again. (Yeah, it was a no-no in the first place.)
post #7 of 23
I've been stuck in them three times.  A couple of times I had to remove both skis to get out.  Once I was hung upside down by the branches.

I lived to laugh about it, but I guess that isn't always the outcome.  I still go really close to them, that's where the best powder is.
post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
Not cool.

Yes cool. I am trying to learn. I am skiing more and more trees and believe what people say and believe stories of people suffocating. I just had/have trouble visualizing where I ski what a dangerous tree well is and why it is so dangerous. I guess they can be bigger than I thought, and more unreliable, leading to falling in by surprise. Warnings are nice, but real stories drive the point home.
post #9 of 23
Not tree well stories from me...a couple of blow-hole tales though...
post #10 of 23
Originally Posted by MoeLarryCheese View Post

Yes cool. I am trying to learn. I am skiing more and more trees and believe what people say and believe stories of people suffocating. I just had/have trouble visualizing where I ski what a dangerous tree well is and why it is so dangerous. I guess they can be bigger than I thought, and more unreliable, leading to falling in by surprise. Warnings are nice, but real stories drive the point home.

If you want to learn about tree wells go to Meadows tomorrow, and drop into Jacks Woods. There should be plenty for you there.
post #11 of 23
Tree well death out of bounds near Whistler just a couple of days ago. Snowboarder ended up head first down the well and suffocated.

Tree wells are more dangerous after recent snowfall, we have had around 1 meter this week.
post #12 of 23
I didn't believe I could fall in a tree well large enough to pose a problem to me either, until it happened this year at the Utah Gathering.  On one of the tree runs, Gary skier was coming down behind me, but I set off well ahead of him and came within 1 foot of a tree's edge (it was a tree run), and suddenly felt myself flipping in the air and thought, OMG, I can't believe I can be going into a tree well like this, I didn't even hit the edge. 

Prior to reading about them on Epic Ski I had never heard of ski well dangers, I have heli skied, ski OOB at Panorama BC and else where many times, and skied tons of trees, and had never even heard of tree wells.

As I was flipping into the one on my run at Snow Bird this year, In Utah, I couldn't believe it was happening and I was falling in backwards.  I grabbed two branches of the two small trees (this was a clump of about 6 trees, one larger 4 smaller and the tree well formed around all of them as one hole), hoped the skimpy branches would hold and held my head out that way.  My skis lay diagonally across the hole , just like the pictures you've seen and if i let go of the branches my head would be in upside down. 

I remembered, don't struggle, as the snow came in around my face, I pulled myself out higher and the branches held.  I could see just above the hole and was watching for Gary Skier to come past so i could yell for help.  It seemed about 5 minutes before I spotted Gary Skier on the very far side of the run and he was having a great run, and never heard my yell for help.  I wish I had bought that whistle I'd told Old Boot I was going to buy.  I kept envisioning the Epic Gather Post including a somber note" LS was found upside down in a tree well" and I couldn't believe it was happening. 

As a former gymnast, with my skis above my hips, my arms holding these two flimsy branches, I was thinking...how do I flip myself up onto the snow.  I checked my skis, and I could extend one leg far enough to reach the snow at the edge and braces it in the snow, the other ski still across the hole from side to side.  I made a flip with hips while pulling with the arms up and managed to flip myself out, to the snow and out across the run.  I lay there totally out of breath and hot from over exersion and still had to get my poles, one being on the far side of the tree well and about 1o feet up the hill, with only about 3 " not buried in the snow. 

At this time a lady and two other skiers were coming down right in my path.  I asked her if she could see the little piece of my pole on the far side of the tree well sticking out, she could and I asked if she could ski that side and reach for it but not get near the edge as it was a very large tree well.  She reached my pole, and the other I had managed to get already. 

I was so hot from the exertion I actually took off my coat (probably a bad thing hehe), and mittens and skied down to where the rest of the bears were meeting.  JohnL gave me hell for the coat and told me to put it back on lol.

Anyhow, from my long story, I now have a whistle, I'm heading to Whistler this weekend and I just got off the phone with my brother who is meeting me to tell him my new rules for skiing west and make sure he picks up a whistle and then started reading these stories.  I have asked that my brother keep me in sight and that we have a meet up spot on each run, in case someone hits a tree, falls and gets injured or ends up in a tree well and bring a whistle.  Best, keep each other in sight but if something happens and you lose sight we will have a meet up spot.
post #13 of 23
 Wow, Lady Salina, that's quite a story.  Glad it ended well.
post #14 of 23
Im as dumb as a stump and would still be waiting for LS at the table in the bar to arrive. ( thinking must be a heck of a good run). Good thing she has those "Cat woman" like moves. and as TC said Glad it ended "Well"
post #15 of 23
Treewell stories aren't "good". Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Death claims at least one person every year here. We've had over 4 meters of snow in the past month; the wells are very deep now.
post #16 of 23
Thread Starter 
I've got 2 whistles now (one around neck, other in pocket). I also no longer ski using the pole straps. This has been a good thread.
post #17 of 23
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.
post #18 of 23
Wow Dano.  That story is so believable. so typical  Thanks for telling it.   Sorry to hear about it.
post #19 of 23
Here's a weird one.  I was doing an XC race after a week of heavy snow.  Near the start I set a water bottle near a sprig of a tree, right on the side of the groomed trail.  It sank out of sight.  I went to pull it out and it dropped four feet at least and was gone.  I was standing on the groomed trail watching it sink away. I was standing on packed trail and found no instability.  They are just spooky weird things.  That one was too small for people, but my water bottle sank six feet and was swallowed up.
post #20 of 23
 (DanO - crazy, tragic story.  Thanks for sharing.)

About 5 years ago we were working at Motel 6 at Copper.  It was late - closing in on 5pm and sweeps had already been done.  Me and a buddy were the last people that high on the mountain.  We decided to take a run through Union Meadows because we'd gotten a nice dump that day and figured it'd be a nice run to close out the day.  

We're bouncing down into the gladed trees when, WHOOOOSH.  I was flipping, spinning and tumbling.  I was on my tele skis and I'd slightly snagged something in the middle of a transition.  I landed upside down not really in a tree well, but an odd terrain depression with trees nearby that gave the same effect as a tree well.

It was pretty scary, and being on tele skis it's MUCH more difficult to right yourself.  I was upside down and snow was up my nose, in my mouth, etc.  I couldn't scream, my buddy was in front of me and had no idea where I was.  All told, I was probably out in less than a minute - but it sure felt like forever.  Knowing you're behind sweeps is scary and a situation I don't get into any more.  

My buddy did wait for me.  The first words I said when I got to him was, "I'm skiing in front the rest of the way down."
post #21 of 23
 Dano, that is a sobering story.......
Thanks for sharing.
post #22 of 23
I'll throw out one more.  Not a "good story", but a relevant one.

We lost a Mt. Bachelor employee a few years ago.  She was boarding in the woods with friends and didn't show up at the bottom.  When she was still missing later in the day they showed the patrol roughly where they went and they started checking tree wells with no luck. They tried to probe them all, and mark them with surveyor tape as they went, but in a week of looking had no luck.  The body was found in the spring, hung upside down in the branches, way down.  The well had been checked and marked, but the board was so far down they thought they hit ground.  It was spotted after some snow melted.
post #23 of 23
 Took a tiny little path 4 feet next to a trail at Whiteface two years ago, caught an edge and almost face planted into a tiny little tree. Would have been ridiculously embarrassing to explain. Since then I have never really wanted to ski trees. Just never loved the idea of voluntarily choosing to ski with immovable objects in my path. 

These tree well stories scare the crap out of me, especially as my kids and I are getting better and I know we will start going west and looking for more challenges. I know that there are risk avoidance and rescue awareness techniques, but as these stories show, sometimes stuff just happens...
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