Skier digs buried snowboarder out of 6 feet of snow on Washington mountain, video shows

·3 min read
Screengrab from Francis Zuber's YouTube video

Francis Zuber was skiing the backcountry area of a Washington mountain when he saw something red out of the corner of his eye.

When he looked closer, he saw a board wiggling in the air above the snow and realized it belonged to a snowboarder trapped head first in a tree well.

“I almost skied right over him,” Zuber told McClatchy News.

Before the rescue, Zuber ran into a friend at Mount Baker, a mountain near Bellingham, on March 3, and the two decided to ski outside the patrolled ski area.

As he made his way down a more remote part of the mountain with his GoPro filming, he spotted the trapped snowboarder.

He took off his skis and began digging the man out, a video posted to YouTube on March 27 shows.

“Hold on, I’m coming,” Zuber is heard saying.

Once Zuber reaches the snowboarder, the video shows the man’s hands begin to move.

Zuber asks the snowboarder if he can breathe and he says, “yeah.”

The snowboarder had been buried in about 6 feet of snow, according to Zuber.

“I didn’t think I would get to him in time,” Zuber said.

But the snowboarder was eventually freed.

Being prepared in the back country

Zuber was prepared with a shovel to dig him out, and he advises others planning to ski or snowboard in backcountry areas to always be prepared, whether that be with tools or knowledge.

Always carry a backpack, a beacon, shovel, an avalanche probe and walkie-talkies, he said.

No one patrols areas that are beyond the Mt. Baker Ski Area, he said, so if something happens “you are on your own.”

Zuber is certified in Avalanche Level 1, which can help in situations like this.

The Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute of Nationwide Children’s Hospital advises against skiing or snowboarding alone and recommends following trail rules and staying on designated trails.

“Only go on trails that match your skill level,” it said.

What are tree wells?

Even if people are prepared and know the mountain, they can still get trapped in tree wells, Zuber said.

Tree wells can form around the bases of trees with low lying branches, which prevent snow from accumulating around the base of the tree, in turn creating a deep depression that people can fall into, according to Wilderness Medicine Magazine.

Anyone can fall into a tree well and get trapped.

The snowboarder had been coming to Mount Baker for 30 years and knows the terrain well, and he still got stuck, Zuber said. He was also with three other people.

When someone falls into a tree well, snow covers a person and keeps them from moving.

“He’s basically encased in concrete being that far into the tree well,” Zuber said about the snowboarder.

The best thing people can do if they find themselves in a tree well is to stay calm and create an air pocket, Zuber said.

“The more still you stay the less the snow will close in around you,” he said.

Experts said “prevention is clearly the best way to deal with the risks associated with tree wells,” according to Wilderness Wellness Magazine.

“Skiers and snowboarders should be taught to recognize environmental factors that increase tree well risk, the biggest of which is heavy snowfall,” the magazine reported.

If you fall into a tree well, grab branches to try to stay upright and try to get the attention of anyone around you, the magazine reported. If that doesn’t work, take slow breaths and stay calm. You can use one hand to create an air pocket to breathe while trying to grab the tree trunk or branches with the other.

Experts recommend leaving your skis or snowboard on to get the attention of others.

‘Here it comes, bro!’ Watch as massive avalanche ‘powder cloud’ engulfs Utah mountains

Avalanche buries two people, trapping one under vehicle on Utah mountain, rescuers say

Avalanche kills man snowmobiling with family in Utah. He was buried 22 feet deep