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Posted: January 3, 2021

Know this primary backcountry hazard

Though it is beautiful, the B.C. backcountry is remote and can be unpredictable. Severe weather, avalanches and tree wells are three of its primary hazards, so for any backcountry travel you – and everyone in your group – must be self-sufficient.

Ensure that you and your group also have proper backcountry awareness, skills, training, health decision making and avalanche training. No matter which backcountry sport you choose skiingsnowboardingsnowshoeing or snowmobiling – always be thoroughly prepared before you head out.

What is a tree well?

A tree well is the void or area of loose snow around the trunk of a tree enveloped in deep snow. These voids present a danger to hikers, snowshoers, skiers, sledders and snowboarders who fall into them.

A tree’s branches shelter its trunk from snowfall, allowing a void or area of loose snow to form. Low-hanging branches such as on fir trees contribute to the forming of a tree well, as they efficiently shelter the area surrounding the trunk. They can also occur near rocks and along streams.

Tree wells may be encountered in the backcountry and on ungroomed trails. The risk of encountering one is greatest during and immediately following a heavy snowstorm.

How can I protect myself from tree wells?

  • To protect yourself from tree wells, steer clear of areas near tree trunks, close to low hanging branches.
  • You decrease your chance of harm if you ski or board with a buddy: they can help get you out, or get help if needed.

How do I get myself out of a tree well?

  • Stay calm; don’t panic.
  • Keep breathing.
  • Turn around slowly so you are facing upwards.
  • Grab hold of the tree trunk or branches and begin pulling yourself up.

Learn more about tree wells.

AdventureSmart increases awareness to help reduce the number and severity of SAR incidents by sharing our consistent safety message of the 3 T’s; trip plan, train and take essentials.

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