Tree well talk grows

Many skiers still unaware of dangers

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— With all of the signs hung on lift poles at the Steamboat Ski Area, frequent skier Paxton McVoy wondered Saturday why there aren't more that warn about the dangers of tree wells.

"Instead of having signs on the lifts saying keep track of your gear, maybe they should have signs saying keep away from trees," he said.

The Boulder man was skiing Saturday with his father, Steamboat Springs resident Steve McVoy, the day after a 22-year-old man died in Morningside Park at the ski area. Jared Daniel, of Auburn, Mass., died Friday after falling into a tree well on the intermediate Snooze Bar trail.

It was Steamboat's second snow immersion fatality, in a tree well, in only 10 days.

Tree wells are unstable holes or depressions that form around the bases of trees when low branches prevent snow from filling in and creating snowpack around the trunk.

A friend snowboarding with Daniel was unable to pull him out on his own, and it took about 15 minutes before the friend and others who stopped to help were able to free Daniel from the snow. Steamboat Ski Patrol arrived on scene about 2:30 p.m. to find guests already performing CPR, but despite life-support measures, Daniel was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Daniel's cause of death is expected to be suffocation, though the investigation is ongoing, Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Friday.

The McVoys said Steamboat's recent fatalities call attention to the need for more education about the dangers of tree wells.

"I don't think a lot of people even know what tree wells are," Steve McVoy said. "I've ridden up with people on the lift today who are saying, 'Some guy died in a tree well - what's a tree well?'"

While more signage explaining tree wells and possibly pointing out areas of tree well danger may be useful, it could be a difficult proposition for a ski area as large as Steamboat, said North Carolina resident John Matoska, who took his kids on the slopes Saturday.

"It's such a big mountain - I don't know what you could do," said Matoska, a frequent Steamboat visitor whose family owns a condo here. "I don't know how you could physically do it - it's almost 3,000 acres up here, and most of that's trees."

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials did not return calls for comment Saturday.

Daniel passed away just as National Skier Safety Awareness Week was ending at the Steamboat Ski Area - a banner promoting Steamboat's SlopeWise safety initiatives still fluttered on the gondola building Saturday.

A 45-year-old man died under similar circumstances at the Steamboat Ski Area Jan. 15. Mark Joseph Stout, of Ottsville, Pa., was skiing with his 15-year-old daughter and friends when he fell behind the group on the intermediate Cowboy Coffee trail.

Stout's family and friends waited for him at the bottom of the run, then reported him missing to Steamboat Ski Patrol. He was pronounced dead shortly after patrollers located his body.

Ski area officials and Ryg determined that Stout fell into a tree well, where he died of suffocation.

Ski and snowboarding deaths caused by suffocation are referred to as Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Deaths, or NARSIDs. Of the six deaths at the Steamboat Ski Area since 2000, four total and the three most recent fatalities can be classified as NARSIDs.

In 2005, 46-year-old Thomas Dolven of Denver died after falling headfirst into deep snow near the bottom of Chute 2 on the upper mountain. In 2000, 23-year-old Matthew Westley of Steamboat suffocated after falling headfirst into deep snow off the Frying Pan trail in Morningside Park.

An average of 10 people die on Colorado ski slopes each year. In addition to deaths at Steamboat, the winter of 2007-08 has seen several other fatalities across the state, at areas including Vail, Breckenridge, Wolf Creek and Durango Mountain Resort.

Comments

BoatMaster 6 years, 7 months ago

Put tree well information signs somewhere at the line for the Gondola. Most people will see it there as they are passing through.

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gregrnel 6 years, 7 months ago

I just had my 4th trip to Steamboat a few weeks back, and I will be back again next year, great skiing , great people! After a weekend of heavy snowfall, I fell (luckily) feet first into a tree well on Morningside. Also luckily, I had just learned about tree wells from a Warren Miller video and was able to get my skis off quickly and pull myself out without too much struggling. My point is, I had only just learned what a tree well was and I have been skiing (though mostly in the midwest) for 25 years. I wouldn't call for closing off piste areas, but perhaps some more education, some signage, flyers, anything to make people more educated. There really seems to be a lack of awareness about this particular danger and I think it needs to be addressed.

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Incredulous 6 years, 7 months ago

Jared Daniel was my nephew. If you lose someone you love to a tree well then there is absolutely no question about whether or not you need signage. When you lose some to a tree well there is really no need to sit and discuss whether or not the mountain should have an educational program in place to teach awareness about tree wells. I pray that no others lives are lost because of a tree well. I would love to hear what the managers and owners of Steamboat will make happen on this issue. I know that I won't be letting this go any time soon.

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corduroy 6 years, 7 months ago

I know this link was posted in the steamboat forums, but I think it has enough good info to post here: www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com

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madmoores 6 years, 7 months ago

Incredulous, I am so sorry for the loss you have just experienced. I do not ski anymore but if I did, this is what I would start doing, right away. Each time I got on a lift, sat at a table, whatever opportunity arises, I would do my usual" hey...'sup. Havin' a good day? Where you from? Yada....yada...yada..." greeting to the person I just met, but then I would include something like"Hear of the tree well danger this year, it's getting really bad?" If the conversation went towards the "no, I haven't" side, then I explain it and maybe save someone from going through what incredulous is right now. If you saw a man standing behind a tree pointing a gun at other people would you try to warn them somehow? I would hope so. This is the same thing, there is a loaded weapon(the tree well)waiting to pick off the next unsuspecting, unknowing victim. If the ski corporation is dragging their feet with signage and such then the users need to step up and help others out. This IS preventable and cannot happen again. I know a lot of you posting here ski and ride, please help those that may not know. Get the word out, knowledge is power, lack of it could mean another taken. I'm just saying that this is what I would do, that's all.

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yoyobaby 6 years, 7 months ago

Incredulous - I am sorry for your loss. I think a sign needs to be placed for skiers to see prior to boarding the gondola and possibly at the Morningside access since that is where both accidents occurred. Especially when we've had such a large amount of recent snowfall. Maybe when the danger level is low, they can remove the sign. Rotate signs dependent on the dangers at that time. They could put a sign like the fire danger signs:.low, moderate, high. ??? Maybe having more ambassadors and ski patrol in the area of Morningside would be a step in the right direction as well.

I think that the difficulty with education is that it is hard to cover everybody: since you will have people who don't attend ski school and/or don't read the safety warnings on trail maps and trail reports. There is a good chance that - even with that extra "education" in place - that the two recent accidents at Steamboat would still have happened.

We all know that there are risks while skiing. We accept and become accountable the moment we buy a ticket, put on our gear and head out. Accidents happen. Personal injury or death can happen at any time. This season has been unique. We usually don't get this much snow all at once.

Ski safe, ski with a partner and to carry a whistle is a good idea too.

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