A joint research project between the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook and a heli-skiing business has developed a set of best practices for skiers and snowboarders to safely get themselves out of a tree well.
The College of the Rockies Mountain Adventure Skills Training program and CMH Heli-Skiing teamed up last year to work on how to self-rescue if a backcountry user gets stuck in a tree well.
A tree well is an area of loose snow around the trunk of a tree that can cause serious injury or death if a skier or snowboarder falls into one. It is very difficult to get yourself out.
Research was conducted in late 2017 and into 2018, both in the classroom and on a four-day field exercise in Nakusp, where 22 mock rescues were simulated. The team surveyed tree wells to determine depth, shape and orientation around the tree trunk.
Rob Whelan, the assistant area manager for the Kootenays with CMH, says the project also helped develop safety instruction protocols for their staff and guests.
“The hard work and excellent preparation of the MAST students allowed us to collect a robust and unique dataset regarding tree well phenomena and to formalize a new tree well rescue technique that we can implement,” said Whelan.
In the end, under Whelan’s direction, a ‘T’ Rescue system was identified, which demonstrated that the most effective rescue actions were a combination of digging, platform preparation, and pulling.
The final report was shared with the Canadian Avalanche Association at annual meetings in the Okanagan last year, as well as the Elk Valley snow avalanche workshop.
It was published in the Avalanche Journal, while Bell also presented it during staff training for Retallack Catskiing.