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Tree wells are dangerous hazards at ski resorts in Idaho

Posted at 3:29 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 17:31:16-05

BOISE, Idaho — Brundage Mountain Resort has received 70 inches of snow so far in February and they are expected to get more snow before this weekend.

All the powder creates a magical time for skiers and snowboarders, but storms also create hazards people need to be aware of.

One of the most dangerous hazards in deep powder are tree wells, this phenomenon occurs under evergreen trees.

"We call them snow ghosts when they are coated with white snow they are really beautiful," said April Whitney of Brundage Mountain Resort.

But these trees have a spooky secret because branches collect snow not as much snow falls around the trunk of the tree.

This creates a depression or a void around the tree that contains a mix of low-hanging branches, loose snow and air.

"Tree wells are dangerous we all get super excited when we start counting the fresh powder in feet instead of inches," said Whitney. "But we do want people to be aware that leaving the groomed runs even in bounds in a ski area does have some hazards."

Tree wells are really dangerous because 90 percent of people who fall into one can't get themselves out, but the good news is that these hazards are avoidable by staying on groomed runs and away from the trees.

Dangerous tree wells can be found at resorts all over Idaho, but tree runs can also be very enjoyable and Brundage has some of the best around, here are some tips they shared with us.

“Always ski with a buddy and that doesn’t mean you leave at the top and meet up at the bottom," said Whitney. "It’s a good idea to wear bright colors because that means your buddy knows where you are, sometimes you will hear people especially at Brundage yelling whoop whoop some of that is the pure joy of skiing powder, but some of that is also communicating with your ski buddy.”

Whitney told us when skiing in the trees it is a good idea to remove pole straps because those can act like handcuffs and she also recommends pulling your ski mask down below your mouth to avoid snow immersion suffocation.

Whitney hasn't fallen in a tree well but she has had a frightening experience falling face-first into the snow on a big powder day.

“I caught the tip of my ski on a branch and I fell," said Whitney. "I had a facemask on and the snow caked on there, I could barely get my breath and I panicked, it was scary.”

The best example of this comes from a YouTube video a father shot while saving his son from a tree well about five years ago at Brundage, DISCLAIMER we did find one swear work in this video.

It should be an epic weekend for skiers and snowboards, but we want to make sure people know about the dangers of these hazards.