A 48-year-old skier from Burnaby captured falling into a tree well on his GoPro camera. The man survived the incident and credits educating himself about what to do.

UPDATED: Visiting skier escapes from tree well at Nelson’s Whitewater

An epic ski week with the guys ended dramatically as one man survived falling into a tree well at Whitewater Ski Resort.



An epic ski week with the guys ended dramatically as one man survived falling into a tree well at Whitewater Ski Resort.

Chris Johnston is a consulting engineer from Burnaby who was in Nelson last week skiing with a group of friends. On the last day at the hill, last Friday, at the bottom of Motherload, his group headed into the trees.

“We skied in and about three or four turns down, I turned upslope of a tree,” he told the Star. “I lost a ski and I fell head first down a fairly large tree well.”

First he hoped he was just semi buried and could get out but more and more snow kept coming down on top of him.

“I started breathing in those little snow particles and then I realized I was in danger,” he said. “I was a little bit panicked… But somewhere along the line, it did click that I was in a tree well upside down.”

The 48-year-old experienced skier stayed still and started to clear the snow from around his mouth. Keeping the snow from his lungs was his primary goal.

“And then I was able to think,” he said. “I took a deep breath and reached up and managed to get my other ski off. Some snow came down and I recreated the space in front of my mouth. And then at least I was standing up.”

He broke through the snow and could see there was about a metre above him.

“It seemed reasonable and I just knocked down the snow and eventually had a hole to get out of.”

He radioed his friend, said that he was safe and managed to climb the tree to get out as his friends showed up.

“They were looking at the hole and looking at me going, ‘Wow!’” said Johnston.

Johnston captured the entire incident on his ” target=”_blank”>GoPro camera.

According to www.deepsnowsafety.org, the odds of surviving falling into a tree well are low. A tree well is the area around the base of a tree where branches block snow from settling around the base of the tree. Often people fall into a tree well headfirst.

Statistics say that 90 per cent of people who fall into a tree well don’t survive because they become suffocated by loose snow that fills in around them. While this statistic is arguably skewed, as many surviving tree well accidents don’t report the incident, it paints a serious picture of why the hazard is worth careful attention.

Whitewater’s Kirk Jensen, general manager of outside operations said this is the first tree well incident at the local hill this year — that they’re aware of.

“We don’t really know how often if happens unless people report it,” he said encouraging people to do so.

Jensen said keeping visual contact with a ski buddy and skiing with a whistle are two ways to stay safe. Whitewater does its best to educate people about this deep snow safety issue on the hill and reaching out in local schools.

“It’s something that can’t really be avoided because it’s a natural effect in the forest,” he said. “It’s a common risk of the sport.”

“Obviously, we’re happy this turned out positive and we’re thankful he was educated on what to do,” said Jensen.

Johnston had informed himself about what to do in a tree-well accident and he credits his knowledge with helping him safely get out of the well. The videos he’d watched and information he’d gathered stuck with him through this emergency.

“We love this tree skiing and we got scared a few years ago when we heard a story. So, one of my friends mandated we wear radios, stay together and look at the site and understand it,” he said. “I am in better shape today because I did know what to do.”

Still, there were more lessons to learn through experience.

He says he would no longer “turn upslope of a tree,” he wouldn’t strap his hands into his poles and he says there is lots of air in the snow once particles are cleared from a person’s mouth, something he is now very familiar with.

On February 23, a 29-year-old backcountry skier from Burnaby died near Pemberton after falling into a tree well. It was the second death by such an accident in 2014.

 

Just Posted

Slocan Valley added to communities on flooding evac alert

Kootenay Lake is expected to reach flooding level in Nelson by Friday

Police searching for Nelson man

Brent Mickelson hasn’t been heard from since February

UPDATED: Hwy 3 west of Creston remains closed due to mudslide

A detour is available on the Kootenay Lake Ferry, but commuters could see wait times

Local police recognized for work

Eight officers were honoured for removing impaired drivers

Group wants Argenta Johnsons Landing face protected

Carolyn Schramm and Gary Diers are among residents opposed to logging plans

VIDEO: Grand Forks shores up defences as floodwaters rise to peak levels

Canadian Forces, volunteers working to protect low-lying areas

Chilliwack Chiefs moving on to RBC Cup final after thrilling win over Ottawa

Kaden Pickering scored the winning goal in the 3rd period as Chilliwack won their semi-final 3-2.

VIDEO: As floodwaters recede, crews assess the damage to Grand Forks’ downtown

More than four dozen firefighters and building inspectors came out to help

Wellington Dukes pull off epic upset of Wenatchee at RBC Cup

The Dukes are off to the championship game after downing the Wild 2-1 Saturday at Prospera Centre.

Canada to face U.S. for bronze at world hockey championship

Canada was looking to play in the gold medal game for a fourth straight year, but saw 3-2 loss

Searchers for Vancouver Island father turn focus to Cowichan River

Cowichan SAR joined by many other SAR groups, volunteers now determined to find missing man

Vacationers urged to check for stowaway bats that could carry deadly disease

‘White-nose syndrome’ has killed millions of bats in North America, but hasn’t arrived in B.C. yet

Are B.C.’s gas prices enough to keep you from travelling May long weekend?

Gas prices in B.C. ranging from 125 cents per litre to more than 150 cents

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle wed in Windsor as millions watch

Windsor sparkled on a warm spring day as tens of thousands of people jammed its quaint roads

Most Read