The last four months has marked the return of real winter in the Northwest, and Washington’s ski areas couldn’t be happier. Yet, all that snow means skiers have to be aware of the dangers.
At the Mt. Baker Ski area, tree well warnings are highly visible -- they’re even posted in the parking lot.
Months of heavy snow fall at Mt. Baker means the snow underneath tree branches is far less than the snow levels around, creating a deep pit or tree well. If you ski into one, and end up upside down, it can be impossible to release your skis or extract your feet from a snowboard.
Skiing with a buddy is highly recommended, so if you end up in a tree well it’s more likely you’ll be noticed.
Another warning applies to snow immersion and suffocation.
Duncan Howat, who has managed the resort for decades is a big believer in snow hazard education.
He said until Thursday, Baker was covered in deep powder. Under those conditions a face plant can put you under the snow.
Snow suffocation is less of a risk now that temperatures have warmed and the snow has consolidated. That said, Howat is expecting a return to more power later this weekend.
Friday morning’s rain added a top layer of weight to the snow pack, meaning avalanche danger is considered high.
On Friday, Baker ski patrol brought down an avalanche in a slide zone not far from the base of chair 8.
A large berm build-up over the season is designed to divert the avalanche from reaching the ski area. But just outside the boundary, the results of the slide is impressive. Howat estimates it is 50-feet deep, having started as much as two-thirds of a mile away.