Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. employees ski along the Sundial trail bordering Morningside Park on Tuesday at the Steamboat Ski Area. One skier and a snowboarder have died this year after falling into tree wells and suffocating in Morningside.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. employees ski along the Sundial trail bordering Morningside Park on Tuesday at the Steamboat Ski Area. One skier and a snowboarder have died this year after falling into tree wells and suffocating in Morningside.

Safety on the slopes

Ski Corp. officials cite education, awareness efforts about dangers

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— The father of a 22-year-old who died Friday at Steamboat Ski Area thinks more signs pointing out tree well danger are needed on Mount Werner and at ski resorts everywhere.

"You've lost two people out there in two weeks, so it's obviously a problem," Stephen Daniel said Tuesday from the family's home in Auburn, Mass.

His son, Jared Daniel, died after falling into a tree well and suffocating on the intermediate Snooze Bar trail in Morningside Park. On Jan. 15, 45-year-old Mark Joseph Stout of Ottsville, Pa., died under similar circumstances, also in Morningside Park. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials said Tuesday that while safety is the resort's utmost priority, there are not yet specific plans to increase safety information to skiers and snowboarders about the dangers of tree wells.

"We're going to do everything we can to think through this and augment what we can do, especially when it comes to tree skiing," said Andy Wirth, chief marketing officer and vice president of sales and marketing for Ski Corp. and its parent company, Intrawest.

Ski Corp. spokesperson Mike Lane said skiing is an inherently dangerous sport and that resort officials have made extensive efforts to educate visitors about safety.

"We have the (Skier Code of Conduct) printed on every trail map, and skier education information is displayed on TV displays throughout the gondola area," he said. "Our main goal is to provide a safe experience to all of our guests."

Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Tuesday that Daniel's official cause of death was suffocation. That also was the cause of death for Stout, who was skiing with his 15-year-old daughter and friends when he fell behind the group on the intermediate Cowboy Coffee trail. Ski area officials and Ryg determined that Stout fell into a tree well.

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.

Ski Corp.'s safety education efforts include the SlopeWise safety initiative, which aims to increase safe and responsible skiing and riding through broadened awareness and consequences for unsafe conduct on the mountain.

Steamboat isn't alone in its lack of safety information specifically about tree wells.

Loryn Kasten, director of public relations for Durango Mountain Resort, said ski officials are committed to displaying the skier code of conduct throughout the resort area, but the Southwest Colorado resort doesn't have signage explaining tree wells or where they're most likely to form.

"We also increased education efforts this year on the mountain by doubling the number of our yellow jacket volunteer ski patrol members from 32 to 70," Kasten said. A skier died Jan. 10 at Durango after reportedly skiing off a cliff in blizzard conditions.

"We do try to get out the safety message of what it takes to ski and board safely on every part of the mountain - trees and groomed trails," she said.

Keystone Ski Area officials also don't post warning signs about tree wells, said spokeswoman Kate Lessman.

"We do educate people about their responsibility on the slopes," she said. "We enforce the Colorado Ski Safety Act, and we have created a 'Play it Safe' program to promote safety on the slopes."

As part of that program, Keystone officials erected various skier education tents around the mountain to provide skiers with safety tips, including information on the dangers of tree skiing.

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 can be classified as NARSIDs.

Stephen Daniel said he hopes ski areas increase efforts to warn skiers and snowboarders about tree wells.

"More people are heading to the trees, like my son," he said. "It just seems like a good idea to warn them about what they are getting into."

- To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

stmbtgrl20 6 years, 10 months ago

It is unfortunate that 2 people have died on the slopes. However, as a skier or snowboarder you know that there are risks associated with the sport. If you ski/board out of bounds, in the trees, recklessly... then you should be prepared for those risks. Maybe a warning would do by the Gondola for the tourists?

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ottomandude 6 years, 10 months ago

Use the same warning they put up for out-of-bounds gates. If you ski trees, DEATH may result. Problem solved.

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 10 months ago

so much snow so fast, creates these suprise conditions, it's very sad we lose these young lives, I am so sorry for everybody, be careful out there, God bless all................

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freshair 6 years, 10 months ago

Warning signs are no substitute for plain old common sense. If they were, nobody would ever exceed the Speed limit. The natural tendency for the families of those involved with these types of accidents is always to divert from personal responsibility in favor of some 'greater', but irrelevant, 'public good'

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STEMBOATwannabe 6 years, 10 months ago

If you come from out of state ( Midwest or eastern states) there is not as large of a danger of tree wells as it is in Steamboat. Most skiers from the flatter states probably have never heard of tree wells. If it is something that is so dangerous this year with the current snow conditions it should be the responsibility of those who know ( the owners of the property) to educated those that are purchasing lift tickets that there is danger on the slopes. To ignore that there is a potential danger on the mountain will not make it go away. Handing out some kind of warning to every person as they go up the mountain or as they purchase lift tickets would make sense.

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spukomy 6 years, 10 months ago

Ski Corp could post warning signs on lift poles. Can't help but notice those on the way up.

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seeuski 6 years, 10 months ago

Tree well danger in the western ski areas is almost always a danger, we get 300 to 500+ inches a year. The back of the lift ticket has warnings about all kinds of dangers associated with this sport, I doubt anyone reads those warnings and besides I can't think of any way of advertising these dangers any more than what has already been done with the national media attention including several articles in the Pilot, hundreds of blogs and website addresses about the dangers of "narsids". I can't believe that the most recent tragedy occured to someone who was not aware it happened as it was slope safety week here at that time (signs and tents with info at the gondi area)and everyone was fresh with the knowledge of the death from the week before. As a matter of fact the Snowboarder was with friends and the event was witnessed by them, they were there at the instant of the fall but could not lift the poor guy out of the well fast enough. It only takes a couple of minutes to suffocate. In the fist death it is being rumored here that the man weighed 270lbs. The sad truth is that we take chances in life when we least realise it, like when a dear runs out in front of a motorcyclist doing 60mph, that happened to me, or when someone skis into a tree well that is 10' deep, that happened to me, There would be no one to blame but myself, NOT the owners of the ski company or maybe the manufacturer of my Harley for not properly warning or educating me. But, as a skier here in Steamboat I will warn less than expert skiers this, Stay out of the Pine treed runs unless you stand on your skis in balance and can turn on a dime, especially the flatter areas like Morningside because there you don't have the steep pitch that gives you a chance to roll your feet around below you when you do fall. Another tip, if you ski in these treed areas take your pole straps off of your wrists so your hands will be free to atleast move the snow from your airway or get yourself upright. Hope we have no more tragic events here or anywhere.

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joseywales66 6 years, 10 months ago

Yo Steamboat wannabe,

You ever read the back of a lift ticket, or the release you sign when you buy a seasons pass? Or the signs posted at every bottom lift station including the gondola. Take a peak sometime.

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madmoores 6 years, 10 months ago

I'm curious about something because I've never been farther east than Denver(and for good reason). In the mideast and eastern states do they ski on mountains with ski areas? And trees? And snow? If there are all three of these things present then why are they so "unaware" of this tree well danger? Are they only skiing on a couple inches in a parking lot? Do they not have pine trees? Last weather report I saw for the mideast, and east, they get pounded with snow(lake affect in the north)as bad as we do, sometimes worse. I just can't help but wonder why these "mideastern, eastern" people do not know of this danger. Are the ski hills(or possibly mountains)treeless? Granted I live here but this is one of the first safety aspects taught to me about skiing, be careful within the trees. Just wonderin'...

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skiblue 6 years, 10 months ago

We were totally unaware of ski well dangers. Coming from eastern PA, we ski on packed powder, ice and are not allowed to ski the trees. Our part of the state does not experience lake effect snow. Tonight's forcast is rain and freezing rain. . There currently is no snow left in my yard. Our mountain has a 3-4 foot base, mainly man made snow. Our lift tickets post warnings about injury and death also. After returning from Steamboat, explaining the tragedy to our fellow skiers at our mountain, most were totally unaware of tree well dangers. Mark did not weigh 270 lbs. Don't know where that came from. He was in very good health and an excellent skier. I am an excellent skier, and the children who have all been skiing since they were toddlers, alpine ski race, do freestyle events and are even better skiers than us. All I'm asking is to post signs at the entrance of Morningside Park. Steamboat is a national resort and yes, many of us east of Denver are unaware of the danger. stmbtgrl20, freshair and anyone else, we were not skiing out of bounds, recklessly, and how do you ski too fast in the trees at Morningside Park? When we ski fast, it's a groomed diamond. The kids have medals for skiing fast in races. Just keep everyone in sight at all times in the trees. Apparantly Jared's friends were there and his tragedy still occurred. There were 2 very unfortunate accidents to great people. If any of you ski in the east, sharpen your skis (razor sharp) and wear your helmet. We carve through the ice and the most common injuries are knee, wrist and hitting your head on the packed powder and ice. I didn't read the local paper before I skied and never posted a comment before all this. Thank you again for everyone's support and our support to the Daniels.

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seeuski 6 years, 10 months ago

skiblue, The reference to the weight of Mark was not meant in a derogatory way, but as a means of stressing the near impossable task of pulling an adult out of a tree well. You had indicated some regret in not being at the scene, and now hopefully, you can see the difficulty involved in such a rescue (even when you are there at the moment)as illustrated by the most recent event when that victims friends were on scene and did the most that they could to no avail. The point is, is that rescues are so hard to accomplish when someone is head first in a tree well with several feet of unpacked snow that continues to cave in around the spot. I think that sbvor has it right and this site tells it all: "http://www.nwac.us/education_resources/Non-avalanche_snow_immersion_fatalities.pdf" There really is no way to predict where the next accident will occur and you can't expect cones or signs everywhere in the national forest warning of every danger, it just is unrealistic. That is why there is the "Colorado Ski Safety Act" written on the back of all lift tickets, liability waivers etc. Basically it is every users responsibility to take great care when skiing and should make themselves aware of the dangers involved with the area they are at which include any unforseen hazards including unknown tree wells, creeks hidden under snow, cliffs etc,etc. Again I wish to express my sympathies to you and Marks family.

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STEMBOATwannabe 6 years, 10 months ago

Many of the hills that are used for skiing in the midwest are tree less. It is an oddity to see a tree on the hill. ( Notice I say hill.... The ski resort nearest to where I grew up was in the middlet of a corn field. The chair lift only took 20 - 30 seconds to get to the top. ) Most of the snow is made artificially as well.

Reading about a tree well on the back of a lift ticket would not have meant much to me when I first came out here. It is something truely foreign to me. As I am sure it is too many of the visitors to SS.

joseywales66 - Thanks, but not everyone has the experience you have. Novice skiiers and those new to the area need to be warned that what looks nice may be very dangerous.

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seeuski 6 years, 10 months ago

STEMBOATwannabe, Have you taken the time to read the reports at this site?

http://www.nwac.us/education_resources/Non-avalanche_snow_immersion_fatalities.pdf

There are pictures too. If you google search the web you will find several different ways people die while skiing. There is no way to protect everyone the way you wish. Big brother can't always be watching and warning(do people really always read and heed the warnings?). Novices should definately stay on the groomed trails along with inexperienced newbies to any new ski area or except the risks and dangers. Realise too that the lifts are transporting you to the back country wilderness and along with that comes the need for carefullness and respect for the terrain.

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skiblue 6 years, 10 months ago

sbvor Thank you for your warning about boulder wells. (see 4th previous comment.....midwest and easterners-read this!) If I remember reading correctly, another skier died in 2005 in one of the chutes, though it wasn't a well. seeuski Sorry, I did take the comment about Mark's size the wrong way. You are completely rignt about getting an adult who is head first out of a tree well. I realized that when I first read about Jared's accident. Please check out the websites that seeuski and svbor mentioned. While watching my 14 y/o son in a GS race on Sunday, I noticed some children along the side of the trail playing by and in "PA tree wells." The tree needs to be shorter than I. The well is about 6-8inches deep with packed powder. You slide in and crawl out. We just don't have anything like western tree wells. Then my son had the "crash of the season" according to those from that mtn. Thank God he wasn't hurt. Call me crazy, but I think Mark was there to help protect him. We will always ski but with greater care for safety, not that we didn't practice safety, except for what we didn't know. Everyone, have fun and watch out for ski partners and anyone else. Don't forget that whistle out west!

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