December 26, 2018
I had a new and scary experience skiing yesterday: I fell into a tree well (the snow equivalent of quicksand). As these things go, it was not bad: my head and shoulders were above the snow the whole time; some skiers and snowboarders die when they fall into tree wells head first and can’t get out in time. This was an avoidable situation, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got into it and how I reacted and how I want to do better if it happens again.
The tree well I fell into was just below a traverse (a path across the mountain, rather than down it—Mr. Karen and I were heading toward a run that we usually access from the t-bar, but that wasn’t open yesterday, which we didn’t realize until we skied over to it). At one point where the traverse went into some trees between runs, the path got narrow and I missed the move I needed to make to stay on it and before I knew it, I had popped off my downhill ski and fallen over. If I’d been looking farther ahead, I could have probably better lined up the move or transferred more weight to my uphill ski or something and avoided the fall entirely.
Fortunately, the ski no longer attached to me was in reach, so I was able to grab it and put it up on the traverse. Unfortunately, my now ski-less leg was thigh deep in soft snow, with my other leg awkwardly bent out to the side (but not injured). I should have just stopped to think at this point, but instead I tried pushing with my downhill pole to try and lever my leg up, and of course the pole sank its full length since I was trying to push into the same soft snow my leg was it. Then, brain beginning to panic, I made the very poor decision to take my other ski off. No. No. No. Bad idea. That did allow me to get my knee out of the awkward bend, but instead of crawling up onto the traverse and its relatively firm snow as I intended, I slid down into the tree well. I don’t remember where my poles were at this point.
Mr. Karen had been ahead of me, so he didn’t see any of this. At no point did I think to use my safety whistle to alert him â€¦ not that it would have done any good if I had thought of it, since I didn’t have my whistle with me anyway because I overlooked putting it in my pocket when I geared up for this season. I was getting more panicky the more I tried and failed to crawl out; at one point I heard myself breathing too fast and thought I should stop that but somehow couldn’t quite manage to do that.
Somewhere in the midst of my flailing (note: flailing is not a good idea in the loose snow of a tree well) a guy came skiing across the traverse. He could have gotten annoyed at my gear up in his path, but he was kind and asked if I was hurt (I was not, just stuck) and used his pole to push a branch down for me to grab onto and try to pull myself up, but by this point, my right leg was post-holed crotch deep in the snow and I was starting to think I’d need to call ski patrol to dig me out. While this guy was talking to me, I saw Mr. Karen coming back toward us and then he and the guy were talking and the guy skied off and then I was Mr. Karen’s problem.
Mr. Karen has experience talking me through situations where my brain is not working right, so I tried to calm down and listen. With a combination of digging and packing down snow and crawling and pushing against tree trunks with my boots and I don’t know what all, I managed to get myself out of the side of the tree well (I’d previously been aiming more uphill to get back to the traverse). Mr. Karen brought my skis down to me and helped me click back into my bindings (at this point I was very concerned about careening down the hill into more trees, but I just had to push through that feeling and remember I could trust him). Finally, I was able to get my skis under me and stand up (I did remember the trick about crossing poles and using those as a platform to push up). Then we had to ski out, but we were below the traverse now. We headed off in the direction we’d been going originally, but after a bit decided it would be easier to go back to the other way; even though that run was a steeper pitch than I really wanted to do at that point, it was closer and wide and free of tree wells. This meant I needed to use a new to me method for making a tight turn in deep snow, which I balked at but managed. I traversed back through the trees to the run without further incident (unless you count swearing as an incident, in which case there were several, as every bump made me tense). I was shaky and overheated and only did a turn or two at a time down the steep parts, but made it down and after a break in the lodge, skied the rest of the afternoon.
I hope to never be in a tree well again, though if I am, I hope to handle it better. I got off easy this time; nothing was injured other than my ego.
On this date in 2017: Fall Road Trip, Part the Fourth and Last
2016: Frozen Fractals All Around
2015: The Force Awakens But I’m Tired
2014: The Continuing Adventures
2013: WDW Day 9: Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Magic Kingdom
2012: Most of the Monkeys
2011: No entry
2010: Christmas Sock Monkey
2009: Post Holiday Slump
2007: There and Back Again
2006: Not Quite Matchy Matchy & Red Scarf Three
2005: Wait ‘Til Next Year
2004: Alaska Quilt
2003: I’m Dreaming of a Quilty New Year
2002: The Secret Revealed