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dangers of tree wells

Snowboard safety: The hidden dangers of Tree Wells

Snowboard safety is important. As a beginner snowboarder or when snowboarding in unfamiliar terrain it's common to feel anxious about your safety. If you are unfamiliar with a mountain the best way to avoid danger is to do your research, check the reports and ask locals who are in the know about the mountain like the ski patrol...even if you know the terrain you are riding there are still dangers out there that you need to be aware of.

This tip on snowboard safety could be one of the most important that you ever read. Most regular riders do not often venture too far off the beaten track into the backcountry. Most of us aren't as extreme as we like to make out and on a powder day often play around just of the side of the groomed runs.

"You need to be cautious of tree wells. Tree wells continue to kill skiers and snowboarders every year."

Even when relatively close to groomed runs you can still be in danger. With common sense and a bit of awareness most accidents in the snow can be avoided. The greatest risk on a mountain is usually during and after a big snow storm. This is not always due to avalanches. You also need to be cautious of tree wells. Tree wells continue to kill skiers and snowboarders every year.

what is a tree well?

A tree well is formed because the tree branches shelter the trunk of the tree from snow falling causing an area of void or loose and un-bonded snow. As the snow falls around the area, the well gets deeper and when a skier or snowboarder falls into a tree well it is incredibly difficult to get out.

tree well

image courtesy of

If I do fall in one won't I just be able to climb out?

Sometimes we all think we are invincible and that the bad stuff will never happen to us. Well with tree wells the risk really can't be taken lightly. You need to know about them and how to keep you and your friends safe. Snowboarding is a fun thing to do the last thing you want to happen is your trip away to end in tragedy. For an idea of just how serious they can be take a look at this video. It should make you realise that they are not to be messed with. Even with the blatant plug for the guys company at the end this video is worth a watch.

How to avoid tree well dangers

Without he and his friends following some of the golden rules of riding in powder the guy in the video above would almost certainly have died. It is really important you take the following tips into consideration the next time it dumps it down...powder days should be enjoyed in safety.

We're not saying avoid tree riding altogether because how fun is that? Some of the best runs of your life will be in the trees. Just keep in mind the following tips.

For more information check out the Tree well website, but the info below should get you started

Ride where the trees are spaced out

When riding deep powder choose areas to ride where the trees are spaced out. Keep focused on the gaps between the trees and not the trees themselves. Your board is likely to go where your eyes are looking.

Follow the buddy system

Always ride with a partner and ride where you have vision contact. Stay close enough together that you can easily help out if something goes wrong. Always know where your friends are and stay with them.

Don't panic

Easier said than done but if you do fall into a tree well try to tuck, roll and land with your head upright. Grab a tree trunk or branch if possible. Yell to alert your partner or other riders. Don't panic and squirm because the soft snow will begin to cover you. Try to create air pockets by slowly moving your head. Be aware that every small movement will cause snow to pack in around you and eventually cause suffocation.

Always carry your phone

If you fall into deep powder or a tree well then your phone may be your only life line. Make sure it is fully charged every day and in the a pocket that is easy to access

Carry the right equipment on a powder day

snowboard shovel

A shovel will give you the best chance to quickly dig out your mate if they get into any trouble. Time is all they have and you don't want to be wasting it scooping snow with your hands.


snowboard probe

If your friend dissapears and you can't see them you will need a probe to poke around the area they were last seen to give them the best chance of a quick rescue.


snowboard avulung

Consider getting an AvaLung type backpack. They have a tube through which you breathe air taken from the surrounding snowpack which is then dispelled through a filter. They can give you the vital seconds you need.

Check out the gear slider below to get the equipment you need. If you are not in North America then you can find more reccommended stores here in our online snowboarding shoips article.

Stay safe

We hope this article has made you aware of the dangers of tree wells and how some simple steps can keep you safer when riding in the trees. Next time it dumps it down enjoy yourself in the deep stuff but keep in mind the dangers around you. If you have any comments then please do not hesitate to contact us


Article by Tamie Wexler - April 2012


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