A skier and a snowboarder have died in separate tree well incidents Montana in the past two weeks, and other tree-well related deaths have been reported in California and British Columbia.

A tree well is a deep area of loose snow that typically builds up around the base of a tree. When a skier, snowboarder or snowshoer falls into a tree-well, it’s incredibly difficult to climb back out.

The loose snow can prevent the person from breathing, resulting in what is known as a Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Death, or, in plain English, suffocation by snow. Uh, no thank you.

Two experiments conducted in the U.S. and Canada found that 90 percent of volunteers who were placed temporarily in tree wells were unable to rescue themselves.

More than 70 deaths from such entrapments have occurred in the past two decades, mostly in North America, according to a recent study published in the Wilderness and Environmental Journal.

Here are some suggestions for avoiding entrapment and death from the study and from the website Tree Well Deep Snow Safety:

  1. Always ride with someone else
  2. Remain in visual contact with your riding partner at all times
  3. Use avalanche safety tools for deep powder
  4. If you fall: tuck, roll and try to remain upright
  5. Grab a tree trunk or branch if possible
  6. Yell or blow a whistle to alert partners

Tree Well Deep Snow Safety also suggests staying on groomed slopes and avoiding deep snow and tree areas if you want to really reduce your chances of tree well trouble. But what fun is that?

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