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

Full Gospel Church collapses

Clean-up has already begun and fundraising has started to rebuild Witset church.

Telkwa to replace Community Hall roof

Village to put out tender soon for repair work.

Dike along Telkwa River being repaired

West Horizon Contracting won the bid to do the job for $125,350.

Adopted Norwegian man looking for Smithers family

David Hjerto said he was taken away from his biological parents before he turned two.

Smithers pellet plant ready to build

Pinnacle Renewable Holdings and West Fraser Timber approve construction of plant in Smithers.

Ottawa proposes restricted pot labels, packages

Packaging will include red stop sign with marijuana leaf and ‘THC’

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

B.C.-pioneered wood construction on a roll internationally

Washington state considers mandatory engineered wood for public buildings

Cops say gun-toting robbers used fake police lights to pull over victims

Information wanted on North Shuswap robbery, police impersonation, burnt vehicle, motorhome theft.

BCHL Today: Surrey Eagles and Powell River Kings close to advancing

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

Plane filled with smoke lands at Nanaimo Airport

WestJet flight came in from Vancouver

VSO to perform ‘Star Wars’ music while 1977 movie plays on big screen

Three shows for the classic at iconic Orpheum Theatre this summer

B.C. emergency alert system being tested Wednesday

Alarm tone and message will play on TV and radio

BC Conservatives pumped by poll results

Surge in popularity has BC party picturing elected representatives in Victoria

Most Read