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Tree Well Story

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I am staring outside my window at 15" of powder (maybe a lot more) at The Canyons!  Two days ago the powder looked so fluffy and friendly, but now I also see danger after nearly losing my child in a tree well. I urge everyone skiing powder this week that isn’t familiar with tree wells to review: http://www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com . This website could save your life.
My two boys and I ski with a simple rule: When the three of us are together we stay within sight of each other. This has been problematic to my older (9) son who has been skiing double diamonds for the past two years, although he usually listens. My youngest (6) is easily a solid Level 6 (maybe a 7), who is held back by leg strength and tires after a few black diamond trails. We take it easy when skiing together so the little guy doesn’t tire too quickly.  My idea is to quit early and be healthy to ski another day.
We skied 7” or so of “The Greatest Snow on Earth” two days ago when my older son zoomed ahead of us on an ungroomed trail. A few moments later we heard his yell of: “Help!” He decided to ski just a few feet off the trail into deeper powder and ended up in a 4” tree well. We quickly found him and I was able to get him out within a few minutes. He did everything right once he fell in. He was thankfully sideways and not upside down. He didn’t panic. He cleared out some snow so he could breathe. He tried to throw a pole on top of the well—it didn’t make it-- so we could find him. And he yelled for help. He also learned his lesson about skiing out of sight, and about tree wells.
I could not sleep Monday night because, even though he learned his lessons, I wasn’t certain I learned all of mine.  What would have happened if he ended upside down and I skied past him? 
Today is another powder day. Unlike two days ago it is very windy and cloudy, and the snow is still coming down. I’d  ski these conditions with another adult in a heartbeat, but with the poor visibility I may wait to go out with the kids or stick to easier "blue" trails until I can be certain both kids are within sight. 

The good news is that my oldest son now wants to write a report about tree wells for a school assignment. At least he learned his lesson and is sleeping well at night. I can’t say the same.

Edited by quant2325 - 4/6/10 at 8:19am
post #2 of 17
 A whistle is a piece of cheap insurance.  I can't yell very loud.  A whistle can be heard for a longer distance and cuts through the wind.  Sounds like your son learned a cheap lesson.
post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 
Great suggestion.
post #4 of 17
Bought Leki trigger poles just for the convenience.  After falling onto my back and sliding head first I did end up upsidedown in a 3' tree well.  I was by myself with the poles completely tangled in the lower branches causing my arms to be immobile.  Being able to press the thumb switches and jettison the poles was a real saver as I was then able to wrestle myself out.

Also now carry a $3 whistle from REI in my shoulder pocket.
post #5 of 17
Whistles are great and even got some Sun Peaks locals free beer one time! We were apres sking at the Burfield bar and an out of towner noticed someone with a whistle and asked about it and sort of made fun of it and it's practicality. Someone else said "I have a whistle too" and proceeded to blow his whistle. Then another local blew on his whistle and then another and pretty soon everyone at our table was blowing their whistle.

All of a sudden the bar tender comes out to our table with a free pitcher of beer and laughing his head off. It turns out that the bar tender had worked the season before at Whistler where during Gay Week every one has a whistle and if you see someone you like, you blow your whistle at them and if they like you back they blow their whistle back at you. So the bar tender thought he was back at Whistler during Gay Week. lol. I knew that whistle would come in handy one day but just didn't quite know when or how.
post #6 of 17
quant glad to hear your son survived none the worse for wear, it seems.  How scary!
post #7 of 17
"I urge everyone skiing powder this week that isn’t familiar with tree wells to review: http://www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com . This website could save your life."



That is a sobering read. Thanks for the link. A friend lost a snowboarder cousin in a deep snow accident several years ago. It was a horrible experience that unfolded over several weeks after she simply disappeared one day on the mountain...
post #8 of 17
I think my parents were friends with that family.

Quote:
Originally Posted by keniski View Post

"I urge everyone skiing powder this week that isn’t familiar with tree wells to review: http://www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com . This website could save your life."



That is a sobering read. Thanks for the link. A friend lost a snowboarder cousin in a deep snow accident several years ago. It was a horrible experience that unfolded over several weeks after she simply disappeared one day on the mountain...
 
post #9 of 17
Recent rumour here in Whistler that a local cook died in a treewell in Khybers this past week. Riding alone after a meter-week. I will try to link to Pique news after it comes out tomorrow.
post #10 of 17
everyone knows you don't wear pole straps... ever.
post #11 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by thesoggycow View Post

everyone knows you don't wear pole straps... ever.

I don't wear my pole straps because a neurosurgeon friend of mine broke both his thumbs skiing because of his pole straps. For those you don't know, you can't call in sick as a doc and you don't get paid if you don't see patients. So he had the pleasure of operating with broken thumbs.
But that's just me...90% of the people I see with their straps around their wrists would not agree with the above statement
post #12 of 17
A very sobering thread. I've been wondering and now I know.  Thank you!
post #13 of 17
I think whistles are an excellent idea.  Make sure they actually work.  I have bought several that aren't worth a damn, especially those targeted at winter use (winter whistles don't have a little ball inside to avoid issues with it freezing/icing up).  My current whistle (a "rescue howler") seemed fine when I tested it at home indoors, and works OK for whitewater rafting in summer, but I needed to use it to signal some friends a few weeks back at Alta on a powder day, and it was pitiful.  I could barely get any sound to come out.  I definitely want to figure this out before next winter.  God forbid, if I was in trouble that day, the whistle would have been useless.  I may go back to a standard whistle with the ball inside.  Since it stays in a pocket most of the time, it ought to be good for a few blows before it ices up.  At least those can belt out a lot of noise with little effort.
post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by g-force View Post

Recent rumour here in Whistler that a local cook died in a treewell in Khybers this past week. Riding alone after a meter-week. I will try to link to Pique news after it comes out tomorrow.

It's true, not sure if they were a cook though. and they were riding with friends, but at the back of the pack.
post #15 of 17
Glad your kid is OK. Realistically, it is hard to resist the call of fresh fun deep snow. A little caution in terms of judgement and protocol goes a long way toward enhancing safety. A little extra training & equipment probably extends that a bit more. A few thoughts...

A search will reveal some older threads about tree wells.

If you and your kids are going to ski off piste much in tree well country, consider doing basic avy training,  getting beacons, and practicing with them. Much of avy training is applicable to tree well issues. Even if your kids are too young to be especially effective in a search, having a beacon on them would up the odds of you or patrol finding one of them in the woods.

Establishing a "leap frog" protocol that minimizes the odds of losing someone is a good idea. 

Whistles are not a bad idea, but the acoustics of deeper tree wells are weird. And there's an assumption that the victim could use the whistle. I carry a whistle, but having met one pretty deep tree well, I would not be overconfident in a whistle as a safety tool in that context.

Realistically, I suspect that in a really deep tree well, it could be darn hard to get someone out without some of the tools of a full avy kit. 

BTW, in some storm cycles, you don't even need a tree well for deep snow to become a safety issue. A couple months ago I was in Tahoe after a truly big storm cycle. One pitch we did was just perfect (many thanks to our local guides) - open pitch off a ridge into old nicely spaced trees. At one point I probed the full length of my pole & up to my armpit - and never hit any major resistance. I have no idea how deep you'd have had to go to find real support. Someone doing a true header in there could have faced a rather immediate challenge - without even needing a tree well. 

I don't think any of this is cause for panic or fear. But it seems like a little knowledge & preparation can go a long way towards keeping everyone safer.



BTW - here's a relevant article from a few years ago: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/256654_snowhazard23.html?dpfrom=thead (if the names seem familiar, that's because the folks involved were the parents of USST member Scott Macartney - both very seasoned skiers)
post #16 of 17

A good whistle is the Fox 40 referees whistle.  No little ball to get stuck,  can be heard at a crowded noisy basketball game. Widely available at sporting goods stores.

post #17 of 17

I remember falling in a tree well when I was about 6 or 7 years old at Mt. Spokane.  I was in a group lesson and the instructor took us off through some trail through the trees...I think near the top of chair 2, but for some reason I remember it finally popping out near chair 4, so I don't recall exactly where it was.  Anyway I did fall in a tree well, feet first luckily, but it was a pretty deep one and I could get out.  The more I wrestled the more burried my ski would be, and even my binding heal piece was stuck under the snow so I couldnt get my ski off like the instructor was yelling to do.  The thing that blew my mind, was after she shouted commands for a bit and I was crying, she took off with the class and told me to catch up!  I finally got out on my own, but it was terrifying.  I told my parents later and I think they had it out with the ski school.  Don't know what the end result was.

 

Cliffs:  Whistles could indeed be useful.  I should get one.

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