The beau­ty of deep pow­der in the moun­tains; if you are like me, you seek out this feel­ing to all ends, rel­ish­ing in the joy that comes with every floaty turn. In many cas­es, the quest for the goods takes you off the ski runs and into the trees; and while the snow may be deep and plen­ti­ful in the woods, there is also a hid­den dan­ger: tree wells.

When it snows in the trees, the branch­es around will cause the snow near the trunk to be much less dense than the snow­pack around it. This isn’t any rock­et sci­ence; the fact that the branch­es pre­vent the snow from hit­ting the ground means there won’t be as much snow as where it can fall straight down. But it’s in the appear­ance of look­ing full and packed that is the real dan­ger. Some­times there can be sig­nif­i­cant­ly less vol­ume of snow in a tree well. Sad­ly many peo­ple don’t real­ize this until it’s too late and they find them­selves upside down.

If this is you or a friend you are skiing/riding with it can be a fright­en­ing sit­u­a­tion. It’s true that quick action is need­ed, but pan­ick­ing will not help any­thing. Take these steps into con­sid­er­a­tion and you will get out to ride anoth­er day.

Step 1: Be Prepared
This hap­pens before even set­ting out on the slopes. But hav­ing a few items handy will pre­pare you for the worst, and make any res­cue efforts much eas­i­er. If you are in cell recep­tion, hav­ing a phone with a full charge will allow you to call for help. Some­times in the cold the bat­tery life is dras­ti­cal­ly short­ened; if your phone is like this you might want to invest in a bat­tery pack, or at least leave the phone pow­ered off for when you need it.

Oth­er items to have handy are a small piece of rope or nylon web­bing that can fit in your pock­et. We’ll talk about that lat­er. If you are using a back­pack, a small col­lapsi­ble shov­el will be well worth bring­ing along for many rea­sons, tree well res­cue included.

max-kramer-216296Step 2: Remain Calm
This holds true whether you are the vic­tim or the res­cuer. If you have fall­en in, the num­ber one thing you have to do is not move around too much, as this can allow more snow to fall around you and poten­tial­ly block an air­way. Many tree well relat­ed deaths are due to suf­fo­ca­tion because of this fact. If you are the res­cuer, remind the vic­tim to stay calm, and that help is here. As the res­cuer, be sure to take a few deep breaths and pro­ceed slow­ly and method­i­cal­ly; rush­ing through will nev­er help the sit­u­a­tion. In fact, it could even make mat­ters worse if you mis­step and endan­ger yourself.

When there are oth­ers present, send for help if you don’t have cell phone recep­tion. If you do have recep­tion, then every­one should stay togeth­er once the call has been made to coop­er­ate toward a rescue.

If help is on the way and the vic­tim is not in any sharp pain and can talk to you, don’t try any­thing until trained help arrives. You do not want to make the prob­lem worse. Some­times the best thing you can do is make sure nobody else gets in har­m’s way and place your skis or board in the snow uphill of the tree to give peo­ple ample warn­ing there is a human in the snow.

Step 3: Pull the per­son down­hill using what­ev­er tools available
If the vic­tim is not respond­ing then you need to do what you can to get them out as soon as pos­si­ble. If you do have a shov­el, you can make things eas­i­er dig­ging down to the lev­el of the vic­tim down­hill of the tree. Then pulling them to safe­ty will be a breeze. If you do not have a shov­el, then do what you can to get them out safe­ly. Hav­ing rope or web­bing handy will allow you to tie onto the vic­tim and pull them out, usu­al­ly by the feet.

If they have skis or a board on, you will want to deter­mine if remov­ing their skis/board from their feet will speed up the process or slow it down. Some­times the boards pro­vide some­thing to hold onto, and some­times it is so buried in the snow that it only com­pli­cates things. It will be total­ly sit­u­a­tion­al as to what happens.

Hope­ful­ly by read­ing this you will see the grav­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion and avoid the trees after a big snow dump. If you do decide to go in the trees, make sure you are with­in sight of a bud­dy at all times. If the worst case sce­nario does hap­pen, at least you will be as pre­pared as possible.