Buried Alive

KS Brooks
7 min readFeb 23, 2021

By K. S. Brooks / Silverado Express Newspaper

My rescuer, Carmella of Columbia Basin Search Dogs. Photo by K.S. Brooks

It’s white, but it’s dark. Your arms are pinned. You can’t move your legs. Are you up or down? You can’t tell. Muffled voices filter down through the packed snow, at least you think that. Do they know you’re there? You want to scream, but you don’t want to waste precious air. Terror overrules logic, so you scream bloody murder. Your heart is pounding in your ears so loudly that you’re not sure you’ll be able to hear anyone answer you. Tears pour down your face.

You jerk when something pokes you. “I’m here!” you yell.

“He’s alive!” you hear.

The sound of shovels cutting into the snow brings even more tears. “Hold on, we’re coming! Hang in there!” they call out to you.

Suddenly, it gets lighter. Death won’t take you today.

You realize, though, if you hadn’t been wearing a transceiver and been skiing with friends, you would probably already be dead.

People don’t seem to take avalanche or tree-well risk too seriously, despite the fact that in North America, 42 people on average each year are killed in avalanches and hundreds more are injured per KBYG.org. And, after talking to experts and watching chilling videos on YouTube of people who have been victims (just Google “tree well victims”), I’ve decided that it pays to be educated and equipped when going out in the snow.

While we don’t tend to have many avalanches here in our region, tree wells are common. “A tree well is a void or depression that forms around the base of a tree can and contain a mix of low hanging branches, loose snow, and air,” it states in the safety section on the 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort website. The site goes on to say that 90% of “people involved in Tree Well/SIS hazard research experiments could NOT rescue themselves.” Many times, a skier or snowboarder will end up inverted and will suffocate. There has been one tree well death on 49 in 21 years according to a February 10, 2017 Spokesman-Review article.

In 2018, the Globe and Mail reported on tree well deaths in an article entitled “Mountain experts alarmed after five people die in tree wells in a single week.”

The 49 Degrees North ski resort has “signage up all over the resort and we have an ongoing…

KS Brooks

Award-winning novelist and photographer. Fearless leader of IndiesUnlimited. Wilderness hermit, intrepid road warrior. Gluten-free guru. Slightly opinionated.