Colorado skier dies after falling in tree well – here's how to keep yourself safe

Ski resort at Vail, Colorado, USA
(Image credit: Getty)

A skier died at a Colorado ski resort last week after an incident involving a tree well – an area of less compacted snow that forms at the base of some coniferous trees. As Out There Colorado reports, the accident happened at Steamboat Resort on January 13, and the victim has been identified as 65-year-old Thomas Rhodes of Kentucky.

It's not always possible to tell which trees have a well at the base, and they can be a serious risk to skiers, hikers, and snowboarders, who can fall into the loose-packed snow head-first, become immobilized, and suffocate. On December 21, staff at Steamboat Resort shared a warning about the danger of tree wells in deep snow, posting signs at the resort, in bathroom stalls, and on social media. 

"We are very aware of trying to get this message out there," said Jon Feiges, ski patrol assistant director. "With such cold levels of temps, the snow has not had a chance to consolidate yet, hence these tree wells are bigger."

Tree well safety

The video below, shared by ABC News, shows just how quickly tree well accidents can happen. The boy was skiing with his father when he fell into a well, and was completely submerged apart from one arm. He was rescued thanks to the quick actions of his father, who pulled his head above the surface and then used a branch to help free him.

Any tree could have a well at the base, so avoiding trees completely by sticking to groomed runs is the only way to be certain of avoiding them. If you choose to venture off groomed runs, Colorado Ski Country advises always riding or skiing with a partner, and keeping your partner in sight.

Ride or ski carefully, giving trees a wide berth, and be prepared with a fully charged cell phone, emergency beacon, whistle, shovel, and probe.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.