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Skiers rarely warned about tree wells

Mike McCollumSteamboat Springs Pilot & TodayVail, CO Colorado
Matt Stensland/Steamboat Pilot & TodaySteamboat Ski and Resort Corp. employees ski along the Sundial trail bordering Morningside Park on Tuesday at the Steamboat Ski Area. One skier and a snowboarder have died this year after falling into tree wells and suffocating in Morningside.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado The father of a 22-year-old man who died Friday at Steamboat Ski Area thinks more signs pointing out tree-well danger are needed on Mount Werner and at ski resorts everywhere.Youve lost two people out there in two weeks, so its obviously a problem, Stephen Daniel said Tuesday from the familys home in Auburn, Mass.His son, Jared, died after falling into a tree well and suffocating on the intermediate Snooze Bar trail in Morningside Park. On Jan. 15, 45-year-old Mark Joseph Stout of Ottsville, Pa., died under similar circumstances, also in Morningside Park.

aSteamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials said Tuesday that while safety is the resorts utmost priority, there are not yet specific plans to increase safety information to skiers and snowboarders about the dangers of tree wells.Were going to do everything we can to think through this and augment what we can do, especially when it comes to tree skiing, said Andy Wirth, chief marketing officer for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. aSki Corp. spokesperson Mike Lane said skiing is an inherently dangerous sport and that resort officials have made extensive efforts to educate visitors about safety.We have the (Skier Code of Conduct) printed on every trail map, and skier education information is displayed on TV displays throughout the gondola area, he said. Our main goal is to provide a safe experience to all of our guests.Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Tuesday that Daniels official cause of death was suffocation. That also was the cause of death for Stout, who was skiing with his 15-year-old daughter and friends when he fell behind the group on the intermediate Cowboy Coffee trail. Ski area officials and Ryg determined that Stout fell into a tree well.Tree wells are unstable holes or depressions that form around the bases of trees when low branches prevent snow from filling in and creating snowpack around the trunk.Steamboat isnt alone in its lack of safety information specifically about tree wells.Loryn Kasten, director of public relations for Durango Mountain Resort, said ski officials are committed to displaying the skier code of conduct throughout the resort area, but the southwest Colorado resort doesnt have signs explaining tree wells or where theyre most likely to form.We also increased education efforts this year on the mountain by doubling the number of our yellow jacket volunteer ski patrol members from 32 to 70, Kasten said. A skier died Jan. 10 at Durango after reportedly skiing off a cliff in blizzard conditions.We do try to get out the safety message of what it takes to ski and board safely on every part of the mountain trees and groomed trails, she said.Keystone Ski Area officials also dont post warning signs about tree wells, said spokeswoman Kate Lessman.We do educate people about their responsibility on the slopes, she said. We enforce the Colorado Ski Safety Act, and we have created a Play it Safe program to promote safety on the slopes.As part of that program, Keystone officials erected various skier education tents around the mountain to provide skiers with safety tips, including information on the dangers of tree skiing.Stephen Daniel said he hopes ski areas increase efforts to warn skiers and snowboarders about tree wellsMore people are heading to the trees, like my son, he said. It just seems like a good idea to warn them about what they are getting into.


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