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How To Survive A Tree Well

22 February 2017 No comments
How To Survive A Tree Well

Image Source: Dan Moldoveanu

After heavy snowfall a tree run may be the safer option but there is still danger lurking below the surface. The lower branches of a tree stop snow filling in and around the trunk - creating a hollow space. If you ski too close to this space, the snow can collapse into the hole, bringing you with it. From this position it is very hard to escape, especially if you’re on your own.

We've pulled together some key advice to help you avoid this situation and what to do if you fall in a tree well.

Tree Well

Tree Well

Almost impossible to see, fir trees retain their foliage over winter, a canopy of branches shield the well from view. There is little ski patrol and the resort can do about this danger apart from making you aware of it. Therefore it's important that you and your group know how to avoid and survive tree wells.


Skiing through woods
  • Where possible avoid skiing close to trees in deep powder.
  • When skiing out of bounds always wear a transceiver, carry a shovel and probe
  • Wearing a helmet will reduce the chance of a concussion.
  • Ski with at least one friend (it’s more fun anyway).
  • Avoid aggressive turns near to trees.

Survival Tips

Ski touring in deep snow
  • If you feel yourself sliding into a well try to stop the movement, grab onto branches or throw yourself to the floor spreading your weight.
  • If you can't stop the slide do everything you can to make sure you don't go head first into the hole.
  • Don’t panic after you have fallen in – any movement will just encourage further snow to fall on you, restricting your breathing.
  • Grab onto the trunk or branches – this way you should not fall any further into the hole.
  • If you can, carefully move your head to any available pockets of air or clear a small space around your mouth.
  • Shout for help – hopefully your skiing buddy will hear you and come to help you out of the hole.
  • It may be that no one can hear you or you're skiing alone - again don’t panic, you can still get out of this situation.
  • Most victims of tree wells land upside down in the hollow - unclip from your bindings and slowly rock back and forth to create a space around you. Try to turn around or pull yourself up using the tree as leverage. This will be difficult but take your time and persevere.
  • Once upright, spread your weight across the snow and push yourself clear.
  • Make sure to rest and recover before making your way down the hill - the last thing you want to do now is fall into another well.

For more backcountry and avalanche information check out Henry’s Avalanche Talk.

About the Author:

Pete Fletcher - Outdoor Expert

Pete grew up hiking most of the trails in the Lake District before being introduced to skiing. A decade later and you're most likely to find him snowboarding, skateboarding or making a mean coffee.