A tree well is one of the biggest ski-related dangers. It is hard to identify, and it can be extremely difficult to get out of it, so it is important to learn how to get out of a tree well if you find yourself in one. In this article, we’ll show you what to do in this situation to maximize the chance of getting out of it alive and well.
What Is A Tree Well?
When the snow falls around the tree, the tree branches prevent it from reaching the tree bottom in the same volume as the outside. This will result in an unstable snow surface with a large air pocket. What makes it so dangerous is the fact that it is most often well hidden in deep snow and extremely hard to identify because it looks like a normal surface.
When And Where Do Tree Wells Form?
Tree wells are most dangerous when the snow is fresh and when there is a lot of deep powder. If you plan to ski in groomed areas, you won’t have to worry about tree wells because ski resorts tend to take care of them. However, if you decide to go skiing off-piste, be extremely careful near the trees.
Although it may happen under any tree, most often dangerous tree wells occur under the ones with lots of branches, especially if those branches are low and touch the ground, where those branches act like an umbrella, keeping the most of the snow away, but letting enough to reach the bottom to cover it up. If the tree is smaller, it has higher branches or less branch density, tree wells shouldn’t be too deep, but still, they can cause an injury or some other type of discomfort because you’ll have to get out of the hole if you fall into it.
Potential Tree Well Dangers
There are a few different dangers that could happen in a tree well:
- Suffocation can occur if the tree well is too deep but also narrow, so there is no breathing space, or if a person falls head-first and is unable to move because of the upside-down position.
- Starvation can occur if a person skis by themselves and falls into a tree well that is too deep.
- Hypothermia and freezing can happen if the skier remains in a tree well for a longer period.
- In case the tree well is smaller, falling into it could cause many injuries like leg-breaking, arm-breaking, head-hitting, etc.
Better Be Safe Than Sorry – How To Avoid Falling Into Tree Well?
The easiest way to fight tree wells is to stay away from them.
- If you decide to ski off-piste or try backcountry skiing, make sure to go on a trail that has no or minimal amount of trees.
- If you go through a tree-filled area, move slowly.
- Don’t go directly to trees but aim between the two.
Escaping The Tree Well
You’ve done your best to avoid it but you’ve found yourself at the bottom of a tree well? Here is how to get out of a tree well:
This is probably the essential part of getting out of a tree well. If you fall into it, your every movement will result in more snow going down and making movement and breathing way harder. Don’t make sudden movements, this is where you have to think clearly and act as calm as you possibly can in a given situation.
Grab A Tree
This requires an instant reaction, but if you get into the situation to fall into a tree well, try to grab and hold onto a branch or the tree itself. This way you may slow down or even completely stop your fall. Doing this will also help by making it easier to put yourself into an upright position and prevent falling headfirst. This will not only save your head from injuries but also will make getting out of a tree well alive way easier. Also, learning how to fall can be useful in this kind of situation.
When in a tree well, the first thing you should do, if you don’t have a breathing space, is to find an air pocket. Once you do, take your time and think about your further actions. Remember, every movement, no matter how small, will bring more snow so don’t make any sudden movements, but at the same time try to act as fast as possible, because your time without the oxygen is limited. You’ll create the air pocket by slowly rocking your body left and right.
To Wait Or To Act
Once you’ve made an air pocket, it is time to decide whether you’ll wait for help or try to get out of it alive. If you know the help is on its way, relax and wait for a few minutes. However, if the help is nowhere near, there is no point in waiting.
How To Get Out
Rocking left and right will also create some maneuvering space so you’ll have enough to move your hands. Try to grab a branch or the tree and slowly work your way up. As you move up, slowly rock your body to create space and to also make the snow a bit more compact thanks to your body heat and pressure.
Call For Help
Once you’re out, it is best to call someone to assist you to get downhill. Due to tiredness and the lack of concentration, you may make another mistake and fall again into a well.
Survival In A Tree Well
In case you have to wait a bit before you can get out due to lack of strength or injury, don’t panic.
- Shouting and screaming will draw the attention of other skiers, but as you do it, don’t move and try to be as steady and still as possible.
- Combine shouting and screaming with blowing into the whistle.
- Before you go on a track, set the active voice control up on your phone and add the ski patrol and/or rescue numbers to your contact list.
- If you can get your skis, make a hole through the snow for more air, but make sure to prevent the snow from burying you.
- If possible, keep the speed up with your companion and maintain visual contact so in case something goes south, you or your ski buddy can react in time.
Other Tree Well Safety Tips
Many safety tips can be useful when dealing with tree wells:
- Don’t go backcountry skiing alone under any circumstances.
- Follow other skiers when you go off-piste. Regularly turn to check if everyone is there, and if not, try to locate them. If unable to spot them, follow their ski trails until you reach them.
- Avoid skiing near the trees, and if not possible, go through this area slowly.
- Don’t go near the trees if you’re not experienced enough or if you have a skiing beginner in your group.
- If you don’t have to, avoid going on un-groomed ski tracks. Stick with those that are being watched over and don’t push your luck, especially if you’re still learning how to properly ski.
- And if you have decided to try it out at all costs, then do your best to avoid deep powder.
- Bring ski equipment that will help you get out of a tree well alive.
Equipment To Have In Tree Well
Many different equipment parts can be really helpful in the situation when you have to deal with a tree well:
- Snow shovel to clean the snow easily
- A whistle, to draw the attention to yourself
- Neck gaiter, to keep your neck warm
- Knee pads, to protect your knees from possible injuries
- Avalanche beacon
- Recco device
- Emergency radio
- Any pocket-size multitool is a more than welcome addition to your gear
- A fully charged mobile phone with rescue or ski patrol number and activated voice control.
- Ski helmet and other ski safety gear parts
Other Snow Wells
Tree wells are most often because you’ll run into the largest number of trees, but basically, any type of near-ground object can have hidden wells or drop-offs and other potentially dangerous cavities. Besides the tree wells, pylon wells are not so uncommon, and even some other man-made structures where the snow is unable to spread around equally can be potentially dangerous.
Globo Surf Overview
Knowing how to get out of a tree well can easily mean the difference between life and death. Tree wells are a natural occurrence that can be deadly if the preparation for them is taken easily. To avoid anything bad happening, read our guide, combine it with ski training to get your body into the best possible shape, and make sure you stay responsible when on track.
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- How to Escape a Tree Well when Skiing, wikihow.com