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Deep Snow Immersion

A lot of locations throughout the west are seeing huge snow totals this week.  With big snow comes big problems.  Backcountry problems are not just isolated into avalanches, deep snow immersion is a very real concern when we are talking about measuring snow by the feet.

The main deep snow immersion problem is tree wells.  The branches of the tree extend out past the base and create an area where the snow does not  accumulate in about a 6 foot radius from the trunk of the tree (however wide the branches extend).  When a skier or snowboarder falls into a tree well (usually head first) they tend to become immobilized as additional loose snow falls on top of them creating a suffocation problem.

In an inverted position with skis or a snowboard strapped to their feet, it can make it extremely difficult or impossible for an individual to free themselves.  It is estimated that 90% of people involved in a tree well incident could not free themselves and needed assistance from a partner for immediate rescue.

Deep snow immersion is not isolated to tree wells.  They can happen in creek beds where its a V shaped trench with deep holes.  They can occur next to steep rocks or in boulder fields, any area that may accumulate deep snow with terrain that allows for holes to form in the snow.


  • Be aware of the recent snowfall and the depth of the loose snow – check local resources for recent snow conditions.
  • Ride or ski with a partner and keep your partner in sight at all times.
  • 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.
  • Carry a Whistle
  • Carry Beacon, Shovel and Probe
  • Keep your partner in sight at all times.

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