Tree well awareness

Bodie Shandro is a CSGA, Canadian Ski Guide, part-time heli ski guide with Mike Wiegele Heli Skiing near Blue River and Off Piste Camp Coordinator at Sun Peaks Resort.
Bodie Shandro is a CSGA, Canadian Ski Guide, part-time heli ski guide with Mike Wiegele Heli Skiing near Blue River and Off Piste Camp Coordinator at Sun Peaks Resort.

Did you know skiing has been in existence for over 5,000 years, with the earliest accounts possibly dating back as far as 600 BC? For as long as we have been gliding on snow in the forest, so too have there been tree wells around us. So why does it seem that only as of late has the term become more recognized?

A tree well is essentially a hole or hollow created around the trunk of a tree where low hanging boughs have prevented snow from falling. Generally, the deeper the snowpack, the deeper the tree well. Tree wells may present a danger to hikers, snowshoers, skiers and snowboarders who may fall into them. As a skier or boarder, here are a few tips to consider:

  1.  Always ski or ride with a partner. Keep them in eyesight or earshot at all times.
  2. Control your speed, look ahead and ski to “white spaces” between the trees.
  3. Try to avoid turning on the uphill side of a tree in the event that you were to fall.
  4. Remove pole straps before skiing in the trees as they may become entangled.
  5. Carry a whistle (preferably attached to a high pocket zipper) to use as an emergency signaling device.

What to do if you fall in a tree well:

  1. Try to stop yourself from falling deeper by grabbing branches or the trunk.
  2. Don’t panic and try not to struggle as you may cause more snow to fall in on top of you.
  3. Make a breathing space around your face.
  4. Use your whistle or yell out to get the attention of your partner or others.
  5. Try to gently rock your body to hollow out the snow and allow you space and air.

Your partner should be on their way to assist you within minutes. If not, over time your gentle rocking and body heat may compact the snow enough to allow you to work your way out.

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