Skiing and snowboarding are thrilling winter sports, but they come with their own set of risks. One such risk that is often overlooked is the danger of falling into a tree well. While many may assume that hitting a tree is the main hazard when skiing through trees, falling into a tree well can also be incredibly dangerous due to the risk of snow immersion suffocation (SIS). Trees present a hazardous situation for skiers and snowboarders due to the snow around their bases, which can create air pockets and water vapor rising up. This causes a quicksand-like texture that makes it very hard to extricate oneself. Unfortunately, every year, fatalities due to SIS happen when people tumble into tree wells and are not found in time.
In March 2023, snowboarder Ian Steger was fortunate enough to be rescued from a tree well by backcountry skier Francis Zuber. Zuber and his friend had just started a backcountry ski run on Mount Baker in Washington State when he noticed a flash of red out of the corner of his eye. Upon closer inspection, Zuber saw a snowboard upside-down next to a tree and knew that someone was attached to it.
Zuber quickly realized that Steger was buried deep in the snow, with only his face visible. After struggling through the deep snow, Zuber was able to reach Steger and dig him out. The rescue was captured on Zuber's GoPro and made for harrowing viewing.
Steger was lucky that Zuber found him when he did. The pair estimate that Steger had been buried for between five and seven minutes, which is a significant amount of time when it comes to SIS. Steger wasn't alone when he fell into the tree well, but his group was unable to locate him quickly due to the difficult terrain.
Since their miraculous rescue on March 3, Steger and Zuber have formed a strong bond and enjoyed a ski-trip to Mount Baker. Steger is thankful for his life and is intent on enjoying it.
In conclusion, falling into a tree well while skiing or snowboarding can be incredibly dangerous, and it's important that people are aware of the risks. The story of Ian Steger's rescue is a reminder that accidents can happen even to experienced skiers and snowboarders, and that it's important to take every precaution to stay safe on the mountain.