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

Fourth man pleads guilty to 2009 hit-and-run murder in Abbotsford

Gurpreet Atwal among group involved in the killing of Kulwinder Gill

54-40 headlines Aldergrove Fair Days

Free concerts series at 106th annual Fair Days, July 20-22

Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford hosts sexual misconduct conference

#ChurchToo event on May 25 and 26 looks at how to best respond

VIDEO: Dash cam video captures allegedly stolen vehicle in Harrison Hot Springs

RCMP report a vehicle was stolen in Chilliwack May 17, spotted in Harrison and dumped in Deroche

Abbotsford school district chosen to host 2019 Canadian student leadership conference

More than 1,000 participants from across the country expected to attend

VIDEO: Bradner May Day 2018

Highlights from the annual event on Monday

Woman’s death near Tofino prompts warning about ‘unpredictable’ ocean

Ann Wittenberg was visiting Tofino for her daughter Victoria Emon’s wedding

B.C. man facing deportation says terror accusation left him traumatized

Othman Hamdan was acquitted of terrorism-related charges by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in September

Will Taylor Swift’s high concert ticket prices stop scalpers?

Move by artist comes as B.C. looks to how to regulate scalpers and bots reselling concert tickets

36 fires sparked May long weekend, most due to lightning: BC Wildfire

As warmer weather nears, chief fire officer Kevin Skrepnek says too soon to forecast summer

Ariana Grande sends message of hope on anniversary of Manchester bombing

Prince William joins survivors and emergency workers for remembrance service

Fraser River “vulnerable” to any additional inflows: River Forecast Centre

Two dairy farms have already been relocated from evacuated areas

Pipeline more important than premiers meeting: Notley

“Canada has to work for all Canadians, that’s why we’re fighting for the pipeline”

Canadian government spending tens of millions on Facebook ads

From January 2016 to March 2018, feds spent more than $24.4 million on Facebook and Instagram ads

Most Read