It’s a powder day after an overnight dump of fresh fluffy snow on top of days of powder falls previously. The snow has never been this good, the sun is shining, you’re skiing inbounds on avalanche controlled off piste terrain, loving the tree runs and you’re living your best life.
Only that life could be cut short in an instant when you fall into deep snow, or worse, slip into an unassuming tree well. If you’re skiing alone then your chances of survival are low, really low.
Tree well and snow immersion deaths are real. Once you fall into snow banks that then collapse on top of you, into creek beds where you can’t move without shifting snow that again falls on top of you, or into tree wells where others simply cannot see you, then you have a 10% chance of being able to rescue yourself.
It happened to these two in Whistler who were lucky to be found. It happened to this guy in a snow bank, also in Whistler, the year before and it happened on a run at Jackson Hole to this woman. All of them survived thanks to other people who prevented them from dying a suffocating death.
The moral is don’t ski or snowboard alone, especially on powder days. Prevention is key to avoiding tree wells and snow immersions. Ski with a buddy, attach a tree well whistler to the zip of your jacket near your mouth so you can maneuver it into your lips and blow so others can hear you. Put ski patrol’s number in your phone so you can call them immediately should your buddy go down.
What to do if you find yourself immersed or in a tree well
Yell, loudly, use your whistle and do everything you can to keep your head above the surface of the snow. Grab tree branches, grab the tree trunk, drop your feet below your head (if you can) and use your hands (if you can) to create a pocket of air near your nose and mouth.
Do not struggle, this can create more snow to collapse on top of you.
Do not panic (no, really, do not panic, breathe slowly).