Powder days and going “off-piste” into the trees fuels a skier’s passion for the sport. We dream of bottomless powder and savor the serenity that comes from skiing through the forest. Although these two experiences provide added excitement to our time on the slopes they also provide additional risks such as encountering a tree well or falling headfirst into deep snow risking snow immersion suffocation.
What is snow immersion suffocation (SIS)? An SIS accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls – usually headfirst – into a tree well or deep loose snow. Falling in an inverted position you can become trapped under the snow. Breathing becomes difficult as the loose snow packs in around you.
What is a tree well? A tree well is a void or depression that forms around the base of a tree and can contain a mix of low hanging branches, loose snow and air. Evergreen trees in particular can have large, deep tree wells that form when low hanging branches block snow from filling in and consolidating around the base of the tree. These voids can be hidden from view by the tree’s low hanging branches.
Assume there is a tree well under every tree and give it a wide berth. If you are skiing alone, it is best practice to stay on marked runs or open areas.
The old saying, “There are no friends on a powder day” really goes against what skiing is all about. Part of what makes our sport so fun is that we share time outside playing with friends and family. On powder days and when skiing in the trees make sure you ski with others and keep each other in sight. That way if you or someone in your group needs help, someone can assist and avoid tragedy.