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

Reel Reviews: Fear or love

We say, “Once again, one worth seeing, one not.”

Two people safe after falling through ice

Kelowna Fire Department urges caution around icy waters during warm weather

Missing Kelowna woman sought

RCMP are asking for assistance in locating Christine Olsen-Meissnitzer

Players bring murder mystery to Enderby

Grindrod Players present Murder With Orchids at A.L. Fortune Secondary in Enderby April 12-15.

Wilkie adds silver to medal collection

Para-Nordic skier picks up her third medal of the PyeongChang games in relay

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Anti-pipeline protestors block Kinder Morgan tanker near Seattle

Protest was spurred on by the 28 anti-Kinder Morgan activists arrested in Burnaby

Some surprises in new book about B.C. labour movement

“On the Line” charts history of the union movement back to the 1800s

Plane lands safely after takeoff issue

An airplane departing Kelowna International Airport had an issue with a landing gear, landed safely

Cancer fundraiser takes to Okanagan Lake

Penticton and Naramata joining growing fundraising event

B.C. cyclist races to first win of the season in New Zealand

Casey Brown captures Enduro title by more than two minutes at Crankworx Rotorua

Notorious Russian troll farm also took swipes at Canadian targets

Targets included oil infrastructure and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Dust returns to North Okanagan

The Ministry of Environent and Climate Change Strategy has again issued a dust advisory for Vernon

Cirque du Soleil aerialist dies after fall during Florida show

Longtime performer fell while performing in VOLTA

Most Read