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

NIDES sending two robotics teams to world championships

Navigate squads will be only Vancouver Island reps at VEX World Championships in Louisville

Dead rabbits found at Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds stoke concerns about Nanaimo virus

A B.C. wildlife veterinarian says a few of the dead bunnies will be sent for diagnosis next week.

Courtenay-Comox MLA talks water bottling business in Merville

Ronna-Rae Leonard remained neutral when asked if she opposes the proposed business

Pickleball courts to be built at Highland Park

Courtenay Rotary announces project Wednesday

Vancouver Island’s Best Videos of the Week

A look at some of the best video stories from the past week ending March 16, 2018

BCHL Today: Wenatchee Wild goaltenders a cause for concern

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Lilia Zaharieva wants to share her medical good fortune

UVic student wants treatment for cystic fibrosis made available for all

Canadian survivors, supporters rally against proposed ’60s Scoop settlement

Some have accused the government of underestimating the number of survivors

Nordic athlete Arendz to be Canada’s flagbearer at Paralympic closing ceremony

The biathlete and cross-country skier from Hartsville has raced to five medals in Pyeongchang

B.C. community cheers on Natalie Wilkie as she wins first gold medal

Local skier tops the podium in 7.5km race at the PyeongChang Paralympics

Experts: Society has a role in trying to prevent domestic violence

Experts are speaking out following the murder of a woman and her son in Ontario

Northern lights chasers in Canada discover new type named ‘Steve’

Phenomenon linked to a powerful current created by charged particles in Earth’s upper atmosphere

Progress on fixing Phoenix pay system backlog could be short-lived: Ottawa

Feds have said they won’t try to recover money overpaid until all outstanding issues are fixed

Most Read