Jeff Bullock, a certified guide who’s also the mountain programs manager at the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre, skis through the trees in Rogers Pass, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jeff Bullock

‘Kind of shocking:’ Several skiers and snowboarders die in tree wells this year

At least five people have died recently from falling into tree wells

At least five people have died recently from falling into tree wells while skiing or snowboarding in the mountains of Western Canada and the United States.

The deaths have mountain experts warning outdoor enthusiasts about the natural snow hazard — a space of loose, deep snow that can form around tree trunks.

They are most common around evergreen trees and can be deeper in heavy snowfall years.

“Calculating (five) fatalities in tree wells is almost kind of shocking,” said Jeff Bullock, a certified guide who is mountain programs manager at the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre.

“Honestly, I don’t recall a year where there have been multiple fatalities in tree wells.”

On March 2, a Calgary man was found dead in a tree well at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Charles Herr, 56, was skiing at the Montana resort with a friend when they lost sight of each other.

Herr’s death was the fifth tree-well fatality in the western provinces and states in the same week.

A 19-year old female skier and a 24-year old male snowboarder fell separately into tree wells at Mt. Bachelor ski resort in Oregon, also on March 2.

A day earlier, an Alberta man died near Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park on a backcountry ski trip.

And on Feb. 26, a Vancouver man died near Keefer Lake Lodge in B.C.’s North Okanagan. The skier became separated from his group during a cat-skiing tour and was found unconscious in a tree well. He died in hospital.

The Vancouver man has not been publicly identified, but his friend Adam Campbell of Canmore, Alta., said his death hit close to home.

“It would just be a horrible way to go. You’re suffocating and you know you’ve got friends close by,” Campbell said.

“You get stuck in this environment with people close by and, for whatever reason, they can’t hear you.”

Campbell, who regularly skis in the backcountry, said tree wells are one of the many hazards in the mountains.

“Avalanche awareness is huge — as it should be — but there’s a lot of other risks out there as well and that’s one of them,” he said. “It’s not talked about as much.”

Mountain experts say tree wells can be dangerous in the backcountry as well as at controlled ski resorts.

“Anywhere there is a tree and there’s a hole there, there’s certainly potential that could happen,” said Steve Holeczi, a visitor safety specialist in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks.

READ: Snowmobiler dies near Lumby

Holeczi said it’s important to always ski with a friend and try to stay in visual contact and within earshot.

“You should always travel with a partner and be really cognizant of where your partner is,” he said. “If you are … falling in a tree well, your most likely chance of getting rescued is by that person.”

Bullock advises it’s important to get your skis or snowboard off if you do get stuck in a tree well. That makes it easier to flip around and breathe.

If that’s impossible to do, it’s important to remain calm and try to find an air pocket.

Any rescue needs to be done with a sense of urgency, he said.

“It may not seem as serious as an avalanche but, as we are learning, they are fairly serious.”

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Mysterious East Sooke ‘Grouse Nest’ up for sale

Luxurious East Sooke property on selling block for $6.98 million

Crash snarls traffic on Trans Canada at Tillicum

One of the vehicles involved has markings of a company supplying traffic control personnel

Saanich to study ‘mega mansions’ on farm land

District staff will study the siting of homes on agricultural lots

Sooke fastball team to compete at B.C. finals

U19 provincial tournament takes place July 13 to 15

VIDEO: B.C.’s ‘unicycle cowboy’ aspires to be rancher one day

Burklan Johnson has only ridden a horse once, but this unicyclist has big plans to become a cowboy.

A look at what Canadian teams might do in the 1st round of the NHL draft

Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton in top 10 of upcoming draft

WEB POLL: Should illegal immigrants be separated from their children?

Should illegal immigrants be separated from their children?… Continue reading

Seasonal transit changes take effect July 2

Improved service to popular summer destinations

Koko, the gorilla who knew sign language, dies at 46

Western lowland gorilla, 46, died in her sleep in California

California court hears tales of shackled, starved children

David and Louise Turpin have pleaded not guilty to torture, child abuse of their 12 children

Trudeau in nothern B.C. to announce pledge to protect oceans

Prime minister announces conservation agreement with 14 First Nations

FIFA World Cup weekly roundup

Host nation Russia remains unbeaten in Group A, tied with Uruguay

Scams separating Saanich residents from their money

Saanich Police warn residents of constantly evolving scams

Most Read