Two skiers have died in tree wells within two weeks – what went wrong?

Skier passing between two trees
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Two skiers have died in similar accidents at Wyoming ski resorts over the last few days. The first incident happened on February 17, when William Douglas England of Lakewood, Colorado, died after falling in a tree well at Grand Targhee Resort.

England, known to friends as Dougie, became separated from his skiing partner, who waited for him at the bottom and raised the alarm when he didn't return after 10-15 minutes. Other skiers had found him upside-down in a tree well and begun digging him out when ski patrol arrived.

Sadly, attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful, and he was later declared dead at Teton Valley Hospital.

On March 1, Kelly George Krause became separated from his group while skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The instructor leading the group immediately notified ski patrol, who began a search operation.

Again, the lost skier was found by members of the public, but sadly could not be revived. Krause was declared dead at the scene.

Our thoughts are with the friends and families of both skiers.

What are tree wells, and why are they dangerous?

A tree well is an area of soft, loose snow around the base of a tree, where the branches slow the falling of snow and prevent it becoming compacted. The branches also obscure the soft area, making it easy to miss. Tree wells can be up to 10ft deep, and if you tip over as you fall in, it can be virtually impossible to escape, putting you in danger of suffocation.

The National Ski Areas Association warns that although heading off groomed runs is exhilarating, doing so means accepting the risk of encountering tree wells, so you should always ski or ride with a partner within viewing distance. The organization recommends checking the site for advice on handling tree well accidents if you or your partner fall in.

The video below, featuring Olympian and professional skier Travis Ganong, also provides practical advice for avoiding snow-immersion suffocation (SIS).

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.