With the snow pack continues to deepen across the Rockies and at many East Coast resorts, the danger of tree well accidents also increases.  A tree well accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls, usually headfirst, into a tree well or deep loose snow and becomes immobilized and trapped under the snow and suffocates.

In an inverted position the skier can become trapped under the snow. Breathing becomes difficult as the loose snow packs around the victim and without immediate help from a partner, suffocation occurs. One recent study showed that 90% of people involved in Tree Well/ SIS hazard research experiments could NOT rescue themselves.  If a partner is not there for immediate rescue, the skier or rider may die very quickly from suffocation – in many cases, he or she can die as quickly as someone can drown in water.  Each ski season, a handful of tree well deaths are reported.

This past Saturday, Whistler Blackcomb confirmed that a 63-year-old male skier died following an accident that morning.  A news release reports that the mountain’s ski patrol, a paramedic and doctor responded to a tree well incident at about 11:15 a.m.  People tried reviving the man with CPR while he was being transported down the mountain, but he was pronounced dead at the Whistler Health Care Centre.

And a 54-year-old man from California died while skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana on Saturday afternoon.  According to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department, the man was skiing with his son when he fell into a tree well and died.

The son realized he was alone when he got to the bottom of the run and went back to look for his father, a statement released by the department stated.  He retraced their route and found his father’s skis sticking out from the bottom of the tree.

Whitefish Mountain officials are investigating the incident, along with the U.S. Forest Service and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.  An autopsy will be conducted at the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula to determine a cause of death, the press release stated.

This is the third death on Whitefish Mountain since December of 2010, when a German exchange student died after falling into a tree well while skiing on a groomed trail. In January 2011, a 29-year-old snowboarder also died in the same area after falling into a tree well.  The family of the exchange student recently filed suit against Whitefish Mountain Resort, contending their son should have been warned of the danger posed by tree wells.

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