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What are "tree wells," and why are they so dangerous for skiers?

Posted at 1:04 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 15:04:37-05

WHITEFISH — A skier recently died near Whitefish Mountain Resort after falling in a tree well.

Tree wells are the dark abysses that are an unexpected hazard for skiers, but what are they?

“Essentially the area around the base of the tree that doesn't have consolidated snow but it's filled with air and branches,” explained Whitefish Mountain Resort Assistant Ski Patrol manager Kate Atha.

Atha also noted that tree wells can put you in a bind, "because you aren't expecting to fall in one that's the biggest hazard it's a very unpredictable situation,” Atha said.

The most important thing to remember if a person falls into a tree well, “to not panic, it's hard to gain footing and pull yourself out of it," Atha advised.

She also told MTN News that there are a few tricks to avoid being left behind.

“If you are skiing in the trees, ski with a partner or in a small group,” Atha said. “Have a plan in case you get separated and constantly check in with other members of your group.”

People should also have a noisemaker handy, according to Atha. “So, having a whistle on you allows us to help locate you.”

Atha added that it’s also important that people be aware of what the conditions are, “follow the snow report and take it easy so you know what you're getting into.”

Anyone who falls into a tree a well should stay calm, make an air space, don’t struggle, and have a whistle just in case it’s needed.

Finally, it’s advised that people follow the buddy system to ensure that everyone remains safe.

Click here to learn more about tree wells.