Tree Well Safety – Prevention & Recovery

Posted On: January 26, 2023 |
A tree well is a hole or depression that forms around the base of a coniferous (pine) tree. The holes are formed when low branches stop the snow from compacting and settling around the trunk. The hole is hidden from view by the other branches on the tree. There is no easy way to identify if a particular tree has a dangerous tree well by sight, due to the fact that the low lying branches block sight of the hole. Therefore, treat any tree you cannot see the base of as a potentially dangerous tree well situation.

Photo was taken December 30, 2018 at Big White Ski Resort, by Todd Ganie, who was riding in the gladed terrain on skier's right of the Paradise run. This situation turned out OK due to the fact that he was riding in sight of a buddy.

Information courtesy of, visit their site to learn more.


The easiest way to avoid tree wells is to avoid tree well areas! Stick to marked groomed runs. If you must venture into UNGROOMED terrain:

  • Ride or ski with a partner and keep your partner in sight at all times. 90% of people involved in tree well hazard research experiments could NOT rescue themselves.
  • Ski or ride in control.
  • Give tree wells a wide berth. Look at the open spaces between trees not at the trees.
  • Skiers should remove ski pole straps.
  • In dense tree areas or in poor visibility, ski or ride short pitches and stop to regroup often - stay within sight of your partner!
  • Keep your cell phone on you and share your real-time Google location with your riding buddies. Learn more, here.
  • Carry safety equipment including, but not limited to:
    • Transceiver/beacon
    • Avalung
    • Whistle
    • Shovel
    • Probe
    • Recco
    • View the safety equipment, here


  • Yell or use whistle to get your partners attention.
  • Do whatever you can to keep your head above the surface of the snow including rolling, grabbing tree branches or the tree trunk. If possible, keep your feet below level of your head.
  • If you become immersed, make a space around your face and protect your airway – resist the urge to struggle, it could compromise your airspace and entrap you further.
  • Stay calm to conserve air.
  • Trust your partner is on their way.
  • If possible, use your cell phone to call ski patrol at (250-491-6160). Save this number before you go out riding!


More than half of all Snow Immersion Suffocation (SIS) victims were with partners that did not see them go down. Lose sight of your partner and you could lose your friend. If you lose contact with your partner, assume they need help. Many SIS victims have died while their partners were waiting at the bottom of a lift.

  • Don’t leave to get help – stay with your partner!
  • Call for additional resources. Use a whistle or yell for assistance. If possible, call ski patrol or the resort's emergency phone number.
  • Evaluate scene safety for yourself.
  • IMMEDIATELY begin snow immersion rescue efforts.
  • Go directly for the airway, and keep it clear, be careful not to knock more snow into the hole. Clear any snow from the airway and continue necessary first aid or extrication effort.
  • Do not try to pull the victim out the way they fell in. Instead, determine where the head is and tunnel in from the side.
  • When tunnelling directly for the airway be careful not to knock more snow into the hole. Continue expanding the tunnel to the airway until you can extricate the body. 

View Big White Ski Resort's Safety page.

View additional ski safety resources, here.

Stay safe out there! If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at, or have a chat with one of our friendly ski patrollers out on the mountain.

Our blog content may be time sensitive and any prices or dates quoted are subject to change.

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