Tree Wells: A Quick Guide to Being Prepared
One hidden danger that all skiers must be aware of is tree wells. Tree wells are sinkholes formed by pockets of air and snow around the low hanging branches of a tree (usually an evergreen). Tree wells can form anytime, but they are especially common in un-groomed areas (places where the snow is not packed down). Because of this, many ski ranges are especially susceptible to tree wells immediately after fresh snow has fallen.
The best way to avoid tree wells is by staying as far away from trees as possible. Trees may be visible, but tree wells are invisible from ground level, so all trees should be treated as potentially dangerous. Staying on groomed skiing areas also greatly reduces your chances of coming across a tree well.
Always Ski With a Partner
Tree wells are yet another good reason to never ski alone. Though many skiers believe that they would be capable of freeing themselves from such sinkholes, studies have shown the odds are against this. Skiing always in groups of two greatly diminishes the risk posed by tree wells. That being said, it’s important that partners always stay within each other’s sight because time is very precious in such emergencies. Upon falling into a tree well, skiers can suffocate just as quickly as they would underwater.
Bring Safety Equipment
A few basic safety items can make a life-or-death difference in emergency situations. A whistle, for example, can help your partner find you in time to save your life. An emergency locator beacon can add an extra layer of security. Skiers should also consider toting a small shovel in order to dig out of dangerous situations such a tree-well accident. If your partner has fallen into a tree well, the most important thing you can do is dig a path to his/her airway.
The Beacon Watch website offers more information on skiing safety and safety equipment.