The nugget. (Sisters, Or.) 1994-current, March 01, 2017, Page 8, Image 8

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017 The Nugget Newspaper, Sisters, Oregon
Recent tree well death highlights snow country hazard
By Craig F. Eisenbeis
Last month, a snowboard-
er’s death in Washington state
once again focused attention
on the backcountry danger
posed by tree wells. It was
reported that Nathan Redberg
died after falling head-first
into a tree well at the 49
Degrees North ski area north
of Spokane. Redberg and his
9-year-old son were report-
edly about 100 feet from a
groomed ski run at the time of
the incident.
The son, who unsuccess-
fully attempted to extricate
his father, sought ski patrol
assistance; but, even with a
quick response and a defibril-
lator, Redberg could not be
Suffocation (SIS) can occur
quickly when a victim
plunges head-first into a tree
well. Tree wells form around
the bases of evergreen trees
when overhanging limbs
interfere with the natural
deposition of falling snow,
and the resulting cavities can
be deadly. The cavity created
around the tree will partially
fill with loose, unconsolidated
snow. Like quicksand, these
traps can swallow a person
in an instant. Such an acci-
dent can be compounded by
snow adhering to overhang-
ing limbs, which will often be
dislodged on impact, further
burying the victim.
Termed Non-Avalanche
Related Snow Immersion
Deaths (NARSID), suffoca-
tion can occur in minutes,
especially when a skier or
snowboarder enters the tree
well head-first. According
to the Pacific Northwest Ski
Areas Association (PNSAA),
in studies conducted in the
U.S. and Canada, 90 per
cent of volunteers placed in
tree wells could not rescue
Last year, at this time,
another tree well incident in
Central Oregon had a hap-
pier ending. In that case, the
Deschutes County Sheriff’s
Search and Rescue team suc-
cessfully performed the res-
cue. Much of the credit for
that telemark skier’s survival
went to the skier himself
because he was well equipped
and lucky enough to have cell
phone coverage where the
accident occurred. Still, that
skier’s situation might not
have become quite so dire if he
had not been traveling alone.
Backcountry travelers
should never rely solely on
a cell phone. Many areas do
not have cell coverage, and
the initial call in that case did
not successfully pinpoint the
trapped skier’s location. The
skier was in an upside down
position and could not unclip
himself from his bindings. He
reported that he was in good
condition but was upside
down and cold. Fortunately,
he was not completely buried
and help arrived in time to
save him.
While tree wells are an
ever-present danger in the
backcountry, incidents can
occur anywhere. One Santiam
Pass ski patroller recalls a
similar incident when a skier
became trapped in a tree well
only about 15 feet off a prin-
cipal groomed ski run. That
skier was skiing alone and
lucky that someone saw him
go into the tree well. He was
hung upside down by his skis,
helpless, and no one could see
or hear him.
In that case, a rescuer had
to go down inside the tree well
with the victim to release the
victim’s ski bindings, which
locked him in place. With the
aid of another ski patroller,
the victim was finally pulled
to safety.
Unfortunately, fatalities
are not uncommon and typi-
cally occur each year in North
America. Fifteen years ago
this month, a Bend snow-
boarder disappeared on Mt.
Bachelor; and, despite an
extensive 10-day search, she
was not found until weeks
later, the victim of suffocation
in a tree well.
Nine years ago, a Mount
Hood snowboarder suffo-
cated in a tree well after just
15 minutes, despite the fact
that three other persons were
on scene and attempting to
extricate him.
Six years ago, British
Columbia ski patrol mem-
bers were conducting a train-
ing exercise, when one of
the patrol members suffered
an unplanned, head-first fall
into a tree well; and the train-
ing session turned into a very
real rescue mission which
was video recorded. Even
with multiple experienced
and well-trained ski patrol
members immediately on
scene, several minutes were
necessary to free the victim,
who fortunately survived.
Typically, victims are com-
pletely immobilized in the
loose snow.
As the snow pack deepens
over the winter, new-fallen
snow can easily create and
obscure potential tree well
traps. The best way to avoid
the danger is to steer clear of
trees and other topographi-
cal features, such as rocks
or creeks, where such wells
could be present. Ski patrol
officials urge caution and
warn that skiers and snow
boarders in the backcoun-
try should carry shovels and
never travel alone.
If a person falls victim
to a tree well, PNSAA rec-
ommends remaining calm,
because struggling often
Tree wells filled wit2 soft, unconsolidated snow can pose deadly 2azards
in snow country; and loose snow on over2anging branc2es can compound
t2e problem.
tree trunk can be the differ-
ence between life and death.
Most importantly, however,
always be properly equipped
and don’t travel alone.
exacerbates the situation. If
possible, the victim should
do everything they can to
avoid going in upside down.
Grabbing a tree limb or the
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