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  1. #1
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    Tree Well Safety

    In light of recent tragic events this Mt. Baker site on tree well safety is worth a read.
    http://treewelldeepsnowsafety.com/
    I imagine most of the folks on TGR forums are aware of the danger but maybe not your wives/partners.
    When I skied Baker we usually lost 2 or 3 people a year to tree wells.

  2. #2
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    Great post. This last weekend at Kirkwood I ate shit in a bowl going really damn fast and javelined into the snow with my head a good 2.5ft below the surface. Luckily some random person was right there, and in the short time I was totally stuck snow had already gone all the way down my throat. Very scary

  3. #3
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    Sounds like a woman died at Retallack yesterday in a tree well.

    http://www.bclocalnews.com/kootenay_...112670414.html

    Stay safe out there.
    It doesn't matter if you're a king or a little street sweeper...
    ...sooner or later you'll dance with the reaper
    -Death

    Kaz is my co-pilot

  4. #4
    doughboyshredder Guest
    It is critical to ski or ride with a partner who remains in visual contact with you at all times. If you and your partner choose to ski or snowboard in ungroomed areas your partner must:

    Always stay in visual contact so that they can see you if you fall. Visual contact (See photos # 1-3) means stopping and watching your partner descend at all times, then proceeding downhill while he or she watches you at all times. It does NO GOOD if your partner is waiting for you in lift line while you are riding down.

    Stay close enough to either pull or dig you out. If you have any question about what "close enough" to assist someone in a tree well is, hold your breath while you are reading this. The amount of time before you need air may be how much time your partner has to pull or dig you out of danger. Other factors such as creating an air pocket or the position you fall in, may affect this critical timeframe.

    Remember, if you lose visual contact with your partner you could lose your friend. It is important to know that most people who have died in deep snow or tree well accidents had been skiing or riding with "partners" at the time of their accident. Unfortunately, none of these partners were in visual contact so they were not able to be of help in a timely manner.

    There have also been many cases WHERE PARTNERS HAVE RESCUED SOMEONE in a tree well or deep snow accident and SAVED THEIR LIFE!
    Does anyone actually do this?
    A couple friends and I were talking about this at Alpy the other day. Truth is that no one skis or rides close enough together to help at all in a tree well situation. Does anyone on here actually make two turns in the trees, and then stop, and let their partner take two turns, etc... It's just not realistic, and I think that most of us accept this danger so that we can enjoy the flow of a high speed pow run in the trees.

    Don't fall forward is all that I can say.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caucasian Asian View Post
    Sounds like a woman died at Retallack yesterday in a tree well.

    http://www.bclocalnews.com/kootenay_...112670414.html

    Stay safe out there.
    I think the Alpine mEadows death was a tree well too.
    Terje was right.

    "We're all kooks to somebody else." -Shelby Menzel

  6. #6
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    we do audio contact, constant hooting in the trees. if I can't hear my partner I stop and hoot until I hear them. we also leap frog down the line.

    I have concerns about the new area that's opened up at whitewater that was formerly out of bounds. there's a few runs cut in but overall the terrain is the same- lots of trees and lots of snow. only the 2nd day up and we already found a kid back there separated from his friend walking around in his boots with no idea where he was. now that it's 'in bounds' it's supposedly more safe- more accessible for sure. about 12 years ago 2 people died in treewells on the backside so it's in our minds. we've seeh people on the road solo often and it's always a head shake. now that it's open there will be lots of solo people back there. the people who died I think both were with others- not sure how tightly they were riding (some just meet at the bottom), not close enough apparently, but hard to say.

    I wonder if it's easier to get stuck in a tree well on a board. I find it's easier to not fall on skis- or if you do you can just sit down- but if you are in a tree well on skis and your poles get caught up you might not be able to use your hands. I don't know.

    I'm not really sure how well a whistle would help in a tree well, if you are under how far would it carry? better than nothing I guess.

    I'm reposting this post from the whistler thread Dec 12. it was a really good early season reminder for me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Clownshoe View Post
    From this week's Pique:

    Heroes in Harvey's

    If not for the quick and selfless actions of two skiers Saturday I wouldn't be writing this letter today.

    December 4 was one of the best early season days in recent memory, tons of fresh snow, cold temperatures and blue skies. After two quick groomers I waited about 45 minutes for the Harmony Chair to open for the season; I was sixth in line, which meant I'd be on the second chair up the hill.

    After we dismounted the chair I headed to Harvey's; my buddy headed further right towards Robertson's. This is an area that we have skied hundreds of time over the last 30 years.

    As I headed towards the last pitch on Harvey's my downhill ski released prematurely. Before I could react I found myself head down in a tree well. I knew I was in trouble immediately.

    My buddy was nowhere near me and I was completely immobilized. Upside down, snow began to fill around my face. I knew the seriousness of the situation. As I struggled I became more and more immersed, snow began to fill my gasping mouth. I wondered how long it would be before I blacked out. I knew the expanse of the area and I knew the chance of rescue was slim. I knew I was dead.

    I thought, "Is this how it happens? Forty-four years old and in a f*cking tree well?" I thought of my parents and my girlfriend Taryn. I couldn't believe I was going to put them through this.

    The next thing I remember is being awoken from a deep sleep by the yelling of some stranger. I was disorientated, blood was dripping from my lip. After several moments, I collected my breath and thoughts. I realized that the two men attending to me had pulled me from the tree well. I was alive. It's impossible to describe the feeling, of waking up to find you are alive.

    Harvey's is expansive and gnarly terrain. A pair of ski boots sticking out from a tree well is not overtly obvious. As luck would have it, they noticed my inverted legs as they skied by.

    My rescuers later told me that I was blue, non-responsive and lifeless when they pulled me out of the tree well. The attending physician speculated that they discovered me anywhere from five to 15 minutes after I passed out.

    These two men, Brad Tkachuk and Eamon Sallam, are heroes. It must have taken great physical exertion, strength and effort to free me. The snow was deep, the terrain steep. I question whether a less competent duo would have been successful.

    The actions of these two men saved my life. They are heroes - no other way to put it. They risked their own welfare by rescuing me. What do you say or do for someone who has saved your life?

    If it wasn't for having two healthy, strong, snow-smart, saviors I wouldn't be writing this letter today.

    The attending ski patrol were tremendous and my heartfelt acknowledgement goes out to them as well. Noah was with me from recovery to clinic and was very supportive. You understand the magnitude of the situation when the ski patrollers are shaking their heads and calling me the luckiest guy on the hill.

    The reason for this letter is threefold.

    Firstly, to remind folks of the danger of tree wells (www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com). I was well aware of their dangers but clearly it helped little when I was engulfed. Death in this case would have been due to snow immersion asphyxiation - non-avalanche-related snow immersion death (NARSID). It's estimated that 90 per cent of those stuck in tree wells cannot self rescue.

    Secondly, while it's obvious that skiing with a buddy is imperative it is little help if you aren't within eyesight of one another.

    Thirdly, and most importantly I want to acknowledge the efforts of Brad Tkachuk and Eamon Sallam. These men need to be commended for their actions. They have an open tab with me at Apres! I encourage others to treat these two men with respect, reverence and perhaps a free beer if opportunity presents. Brad and Eamon are true heroes and their friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances should feel proud to have these remarkable men in their lives. I know I do.

    Sean Hirtle

    Vancouver/Whistler

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by doughboyshredder View Post
    Does anyone actually do this?
    Depends who I'm with. When I got out with a buddy and we're both skiing stuff we're comfortable with then no. With my girlfriend or maybe someone I'm showing around the area, I maintain visual contact when I feel they're pushing their skill level in the trees or it's super deep snow.

  8. #8
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    We have good intentions normally to keep each other in visual sight however its very easy to lose people over knolls or other terrain features. I consider myself a very experienced skier and have never had a close call with a tree well but after reading this it makes me worry a little more about not only my crew but also myself. Its scary how it only takes one time and it could be the last. My crew and I need to have a better way of skiing the way we do in a safer manner. Even if it slows us down.

  9. #9
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    Be careful in steep gullies too. Snowboard kid at Blackcomb got smoked falling in a gully and into the creek below. Most folks get way too caught up in the moment to keep an eye on their buddy, so carry an avalung if you like it steep and deep under the trees.
    Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature... Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. -Helen Keller

  10. #10
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    While the uphill skier can easily reach a partner within the four minutes we can survive without air, the chances of the downhill skier making it back up to a partner in time in any kind of a realistic situation are remote. Maybe a more practical solution is to ski side by side in the trees. (Then we can read about skiers crashing into each other and how stupid they were to be that close.)

  11. #11
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    I have been stuck upside down in Baker treewells several times and escaped by luck and experience
    -first obvious rule is wear a helmet as unconscious = rapid death
    -second obvious rule is Do Not Panic as struggling brings snow down on your head = rapid death again
    -release bindings using pole (always take hands out of straps in trees)
    -restore upright position but way down in a hole
    -place one ski at a time horizontally to make a platform than the place the next ski and climb higher etc.
    Yes the tree wells are that deep at Baker. I have been 10 feet down and not even near the ground.
    Snowboarders are at greatest risk as they cannot release their bindings hanging upside down

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparwood Dave View Post
    I have been stuck upside down in Baker treewells several times


  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparwood Dave View Post
    I have been stuck upside down in Baker treewells several times and escaped by luck and experience
    -first obvious rule is wear a helmet as unconscious = rapid death
    -second obvious rule is Do Not Panic as struggling brings snow down on your head = rapid death again
    -release bindings using pole (always take hands out of straps in trees)
    -restore upright position but way down in a hole
    -place one ski at a time horizontally to make a platform than the place the next ski and climb higher etc.
    Yes the tree wells are that deep at Baker. I have been 10 feet down and not even near the ground.
    Snowboarders are at greatest risk as they cannot release their bindings hanging upside down
    This kind of freaks me out. It would be hard to keep a clear head.

  14. #14
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    So would an avalung be very helpful in a tree well? I might consider getting one just for tree skiing as I do a lot of it.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparwood Dave View Post
    -release bindings using pole (always take hands out of straps in trees)
    Take hands out of straps period--keeps you from having your arm dislocated, and makes it easier to self arrest of steep firm terrain. Straps are good for climbing/ skating and for hanging your poles from a ski rack. Learn to hang on your poles.

  16. #16
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    i have a real difficult time keeping visual contact with certain buddies, easier with others, depends on my desire to focus on them or not. usually keep a pretty close watch on my wife, esp. in deep terrain. get my drift?
    tree wells suck the life outta the unlucky few.
    bobby

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacolac View Post
    So would an avalung be very helpful in a tree well? I might consider getting one just for tree skiing as I do a lot of it.
    Probably not... Flying headfirst into a tree well is a split-second event. Doesn't seem very feasible that someone would have the presence of mind, or even the time, to reach up and shove it into their mouth before snow potentially goes down their throat. If already in the tree well and you are able to move your arms enough to place it in your mouth then it seems there would be little need for it because you could dig a pocket and potentially work on freeing yourself.

    Not an expert at all, but that just seems how things would go for myself personally.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by old goat View Post
    While the uphill skier can easily reach a partner within the four minutes we can survive without air, the chances of the downhill skier making it back up to a partner in time in any kind of a realistic situation are remote.
    True ,...BUT you never know...

    1984; My wife [at the time] and I were skiing the "Backside Glades" at Northstar at Tahoe/Truckee, where we lived. 20" of light Sierra snow. Both expert skiers. We were skiing pretty much side by side, and aware that we wanted to stay in contact if possible, but the trees back there are pretty dense, and it is a good advanced pitch, and it was a high stoke day as well. Easy to get high and carried away on your turns and line.

    I was skiing slightly behind her and off to her right side. It was primo snow. Suddenly I realized that I hadn't seen her for a while, and I pulled up and stopped. The trees were pretty thick, so I figured she must be still ahead of me somewhere, so I yelled out to her. No answer. Continued calling. "Hmmm, where the hell is she?" "Probably almost to the bottom at the lift, stoked out of her mind!"

    I started to take off skiing, and "something" felt wrong! I yelled again,... nothing. "Something" inside me wanted to start back up the slope. It certainly wasn't my mind, which was yelling,... "CLimb back up a 30* slope in nearly 2' of fresh snow, are you nuts!?"

    Yet back up the hill I slogged! Chest heaving; Lungs burning; Starting to sweat like a pig. "This is fucking stupid!!"...I didn't know why, I just I kept going. After about 10 mins. of this I came to a stop out of near exhaustion, and while I was getting my breath back I saw over to my right and just slightly down hill something that didn't look right next to fir tree branches. I started towards it, and realized it was about 6" of the tail of a ski.

    She was head first down hill in a tree well, with her ski tips buried and crossed underneath her, still in her bindings with her poles and arms buried under her stomach and chest. Her head was all but buried face down, and was the only part of her she could move, which she had been doing to get a breath of air, when she could, since she landed there. She was nearly unconscious and out of air, as she was too exhausted to lift her head any more, to breath.

    Needless to say I got her out in the nick of time,...just barely. The mouth to mouth we had was celebratory,...Another few mins. and it would have been pure resuscitation.

    I know this is a bit long, but I hope it inspires an attitude to stay highly alert
    and be aware and listen up to the little impulses and things that happen when we are out there having "the time of our lives". Heed some of the safety suggestions that are mentioned. They might just help to avoid a possible disaster from ruining your "time of your life"...

    Cheers,...and let's watch out for each other out there...
    "People ask us to take them skiing, and I'm like, 'REALLY'? I mean if you want to get in an avalanche or just die somehow, then, YEAH, come with US!" - Nathan Wallace

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by sparkletarte. View Post
    we do audio contact, constant hooting in the trees. if I can't hear my partner I stop and hoot until I hear them. we also leap frog down the line.
    Ditto.
    This is why I don't ride with anyone wearing an iPod.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by sparkletarte. View Post
    we do audio contact, constant hooting in the trees.

    x2
    Not fail-safe, but helps.

    Got lucky a couple of times in tree wells.

    While in Argentina this summer, I was concerned regarding number of possible dangers, skiing with people who I didn't know well.


  21. #21
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    I found myself in this one the other day at Stevens Pass. Uncovered a tree under the snow which sent me over the handle bars. the tree in the photo was fully covered before I fell through.


  22. #22
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    i feel like an avalung would be the only useful self rescue equipment to have. even if you fall in without it in your mouth, it should be easy enough to get it in there to breathe and calm down, long enough to figure out what to do or wait for help. plus that way you won't run out of air ever. am i wrong?

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by donkeykong View Post
    i feel like an avalung would be the only useful self rescue equipment to have. even if you fall in without it in your mouth, it should be easy enough to get it in there to breathe and calm down, long enough to figure out what to do or wait for help. plus that way you won't run out of air ever. am i wrong?
    Probably less likely to run out of air in a tree well than in an avy burial unless you javelin headfirst and get totally submerged. The problem with wells is that you have no advance notice, which is not always the case with avalanches. You'd have to ski with it in your mouth if you're in really tightly packed areas with small to medium-sized trees. I could see it saving a few lives at least though in terms of tree well incidents.

  24. #24
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    Can't say I have been in a tree well, but I have been badly upside down in deep pow with a mouth full of powder. I was coughing and choking, but easily put my avalung mouth piece in and could breath and relax while I figured out how to get up right. So, I think an avalung would be very helpful in tree wells.

    I agree it is a constitutional right for Americans to be assholes...its just too bad that so many take the opportunity...
    iscariot

  25. #25
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    So, does anyone know if this is an exclusive event, geographically? I have never been submerged even on my deepest days out here in CO. Is this a strictly west coast issue? I realize that the much deeper snowpack and generally larger trees play a role, but does this happen as much in CO and UT?

    The couple of times that were "close calls", staying calm rescued the situation for me. 3 years in Tahoe and I didn't have any close calls there either. I guess my cannonball falling usually results in feet first diving.

    I am bad about skiing by myself in the trees all the time. When I do have partners, we are in audio contact (hoots or whistles), but I don't think I could get back to rescue someone, and wouldn't expect them to make it back to me. Seems like the Avalung would be the way to go for the best submersion survival chances.
    Quote Originally Posted by RockBoy View Post
    The wife's not gonna be happy when she sees a few dollars missing from the savings and a note on the door that reads, "Gone to AK for the week. Remember to walk the dog."
    Quote Originally Posted by kannonbal View Post
    Damn it. You never get a powder day you didn't ski back. The one time you blow off a day, or a season, it will be the one time it is the miracle of all history. The indescribable flow, the irreplaceable nowness, the transcendental dance; blink and you miss it.
    Some people blink their whole lives.

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