Tree Well Skiing
Tree well skiing is skiing off-piste amongst the trees. Skiers often ski close to the trees as they make their turns, just avoiding the dangerous tree wells. This can sometimes be done within the boundaries of a ski resort, but sometime skiers venture out of bounds for fresher powder though this is not advised without expert supervision and adequate equipment.
Tree well skiing or ‘glade skiing’ as it is also referred to as, can be one of the most fun and exhilarating experiences on a ski trip, provided you have the correct skis and there is enough powder snow. Gliding through the deep powder snow, in between the pine and the spruce trees, dodging each tree as an obstacle on your way to the finish line. You can understand why this is considered to be one of the most fulfilling types of skiing there is, especially when there are not may other skiers about, and you and your friends have the slope to yourself.
Unfortunately tree well skiing or glade skiing, is also one of the most dangerous types of skiing, causing a number of skiing related deaths every year. Although any form of skiing carries with it an element of risk, this risk is amplified dramatically by skiing both off-piste, and even more so amongst the trees. This is due to the formation of tree wells at the base of each tree, when a significant amount of snow has fallen.
What Is a Tree Well on a Ski Slope?
This snow directly under and surrounding the tree is a lot less compact, and the snow surrounding the tree does not take much impact for it to give way and slip into this tree well, bringing with it any skier that is too close to the tree. This is what is known as the tree well, where less snow has gathered due to the cover provided by the trees leaves and branches. Unfortunately, tree well skiing can be a very dangerous activity, especially if you are skiing alone, or do not have much experience of skiing in deep powder. The problem arises if you find yourself skiing too close to the tree, causing you to slip into the gap underneath the tree. These tree wells can be as deep as 6 metres depending on how much snow has fallen and where you are skiing in the world.
Why Are Tree Wells So Dangerous?
If you fall into a tree well which is anything deeper than a couple of metres and you are alone, you will find yourself in serious trouble. The reason it is so easy to slip into this gap underneath the tree, is due to the snow giving way when you make a turn too close to the edge of the deep snow, and there is not enough snow to hold you up, causing you to fall in. The problem this creates is that the deep snow which has gathered around the edge of the tree then follows you in there to fill the gap, and you can easily become trapped. A study conducted found that 90% of volunteers who were temporarily placed in a tree well were unable to free themselves without help.
Couple this problem with a potential injury or concussion when you fall, causing you not to be able to climb your way out of the tree well, and you can easily see how tree well skiing can become so dangerous. This is why it is so important to always be skiing with someone when you are skiing off-piste or amongst the trees, so that if anything does happen to you or any of your friends, there is always someone there to help out.
It is estimated that 20% of all skiing related deaths are caused by skiers or snowboarders becoming trapped in tree wells.
How Long Can You Survive Buried in Snow?
How long you can survive buried in snow will vary from person to person, and is affected by many factors. On average it is found that people can survive for around 18 minutes buried under snow, whether that is buried in an avalanche or else as we have spoken about in this article, buried in a tree well.
Getting buried under snow often surprises people at how dangerous it is, which may be one of the reasons so many people risk their lives every year by skiing out of bounds or on dangerous parts of the mountain. One of the ways skiers or snowboarders end up dying when buried in snow is due to suffocation. As the snow quickly fills in all the pockets and completely covers the victim, there is no space for air to circulate, and the victim will run out of oxygen very quickly. Other ways in which people end up dying from being buried in snow is from physical damage as well as hypothermia, if left undiscovered for long enough.