How to Survive a Tree Well

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It seems every winter we hear about cases where people get trapped and sometimes suffocate in tree wells, the deep doughnut holes that form around the base of both big and small trees. If you aren’t able to alert help, or self-rescue, there’s a chance that you could join this unfortunate list. Here are a few tips to sway the odds in your favour when hunting for pow in the forest.

Ski with a partner. That way if one of you does get in trouble, help is nearby.

Take off your pole straps when you’re ripping in the trees. If you’re working your way out of a bad situation, the last thing you need is to be tangled up in your poles.

Choose your turns wisely. In well-spaced trees think of the trees as GS gates and turn below the tree (and tree well), not above. That way there’s less chance of high-siding and ending up head-down in a hole.

Stay calm. If you do crash (or slowly slide) and end up in a tree well, don’t panic. Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Thrashing around just gets your heart and breathing rates up and can cause more snow to fall into the hole.

Call for help. Voices are weak and tire easily so attach a whistle to your pack strap, glove or zipper. They’re better than yelling for help and can be heard a long way off.

Get yourself out. If you can remove your skis or board, do it. Try grabbing a branch or the trunk and work your feet so they are below you and then climb out. Remember to move gently to prevent more snow from falling or yourself from falling deeper into the tree well.

Wait for help. If you’ve tried all of the above and you’re still stuck, someone will come looking. Sometimes survival comes down to those who can remain calm in a really bad situation. Panic is always bad; calm yourself and you’ll be found. A solution might present itself that you weren’t considering. Calm minds make good decisions.

FALL 2014 issue

How to Survive a Tree Well



Ron Betts
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