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It’s not something you think about often. But they’re a very real threat when riding in the backcountry, or on the resort. Tree wells: basically deep holes or trenches formed where the tree’s branches protect its base from snow accumulation, creating a cavern as deeper snow piles up outside that protection. Essentially, a deep hole forms around the trunk of the tree. Falling in a tree well can be downright scary. And getting stuck upside down in one would be one of the most terrifying experiences imaginable. Take the above video, for example.

A snowboarder rides off ahead of the filmer in what both think is going to be a fun powder run in the trees. But then the first rider disappears as the snowboarder with the camera laughs at first, before breaking into a snowy fire drill to try and save his buddy. We shouldn’t fear tree skiing (it’s one of the great joys of riding snow) but we should be weary. Here are 3 things to think about when charging forested areas.

Always Ride With a Buddy

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According to some sources, 20 percent of all deaths in skiing and snowboarding happen because of tree wells. So as with most anything we do in the outdoors, riding with a buddy is the best way to insure you have help. Duh, right? Still, think about how many times you try to get a quick lap in after work. And you’re solo.

Avoiding Tree Wells Is Better Than Getting Stuck in Them

Tree wells, just as with avalanches, are best to avoid all together. Try to stay wide of trees. Concentrate on picking a line through the trees that’s wide enough to make turns. It’s good to visualize your line in any terrain but especially in trees. Take a moment before you charge and look for potential hazards.

What to Do if You Do Get Stuck

Remain calm. That’s easy for us to say but the more you flail like a dying duck, the more snow you knock off that fills in the hole around you. Grab at the tree’s branches or better yet, the trunk, to keep you from falling deeper. If you have to get yourself out, move methodically and take your time, digging space for yourself with slow movements.

Check this out for more hints on avoiding tree wells.



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