Male snowboarder, 43, dies after falling into tree well at Tahoe-area resort
February 24, 2017
On Thursday evening, a source provided the Sierra Sun with a photograph from the scene, showing Northstar ski patrol personnel and a skier helping hoist the body out of the tree well on a sled.
Out of respect to the resort and the man’s friend and family, the Sierra Sun is choosing not to publish this image. While the image itself is not graphic, we don’t feel its publication aids in any way to tell an appropriate story.
What is a tree well?
A tree well/snow immersion accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls — usually headfirst — into a tree well or deep loose snow and becomes immobilized and trapped under the snow and suffocates, according to the website http://www.deepsnowsafety.org.
“In an inverted position, you can become trapped under the snow,” according to the site. “Breathing becomes difficult as the loose snow packs in around you. Without immediate help from your partner, you may suffocate.”
Of note, the cause of death in Thursday’s incident has yet to be released.
Update: 7 a.m. Monday:
Late Friday, the victim was identified as Michael North, 43, of New Canaan, Connecticut.
Northstar California has not released any additional details about the incident.
Update: 9:10 a.m. Friday:
The person who died Thursday at Northstar was snowboarding, and not skiing, as originally reported based off a statement provided to the Sierra Sun by Northstar California.
A resort spokeswoman apologized for providing the incorrect information; the story below has been updated to reflect the new information; the rest of the story remains accurate.
The resort also declined to provide any further information when asked by phone Friday morning, including answers to the following questions:
• At about what time did the incident occur?
• What run/area of the resort did it occur?
• Was this an incident of skier error, or was any part of the resort unsafe for riding/skiing yesterday?
• Did the resort operate as normal during and after the incident yesterday? Will it also be fully open today?
The original story from 7 a.m. Friday is below:
TRUCKEE, Calif. — A male snowboarder died Thursday at the Northstar California resort near Lake Tahoe after apparently falling headfirst into a tree well, sources have confirmed.
The 43-year-old man from New Canaan, Connecticut, died in what Northstar officials called "a serious incident," according to a 6:45 a.m. Friday statement emailed to the Sierra Sun.
"Northstar Ski Patrol responded to a ski incident on advanced terrain, where the guest had been skiing at the resort," according to the statement released by Marcie Bradley, Senior Communications Manager for Northstar California. "Northstar Fire Department provided further emergency care and pronounced the man deceased."
Further information — including time of day and at what area of the ski resort the incident occurred — was not included in the statement; the Sierra Sun is awaiting a response to several follow-up questions.
The name of the man has not yet been released by the Placer County Medical Examiner’s Office, pending next-of-kin notification.
Dane Jasper, of Santa Rosa, Calif., was skiing at the resort Thursday when he said he heard a fellow skier — reportedly an emergency room doctor — shouting for help near where the Connecticut man had fallen into the tree well.
"We found him on his back, in a tree well, unconscious," Jasper said in an email to the Sierra Sun Thursday night. "…Together, we couldn't pull (the man) out, so we kept shouting until another man arrived, and the three of us managed to pull (the man) out.
"We gave CPR until ski patrol arrived, but (the man) wasn't responsive."
The Tahoe-Truckee region had been hammered this week with yet another major snow storm, making for deep powder conditions across most regional ski resorts.
According to a 9 a.m. Thursday statement from Vail Resorts, Northstar California had received 11 inches of snow at its upper mountain overnight Wednesday, making for a 7-day snowfall total of 94 inches (that equates to 7.83 feet).
So far during the 2016-17 ski season, 562 inches of snow have fallen at Northstar, officials said.
"It has been years since California has had deep snow like this season, and (Thursday’s incident) serves as a poignant reminder — don't ski or board alone," Jasper told the Sun. "The deep natural snow means deep wells around every tree, and falling head-down into a tree well can quickly result in a tragic outcome.
"For almost a decade, we have seen moderate snowfall in the (Sierra), so I think most of us have forgotten about the risks of heavy (snow). This served as a powerful reminder for me today."
"Northstar, Northstar Ski Patrol and the entire Vail Resorts family extend our deepest sympathy and support to our guest's family and friends," said Nadia Guerriero, vice president and general manager of Northstar California, in Friday’s statement.
Thursday’s death marks the second on-mountain fatality this season at Northstar.
In December, 35-year-old Northstar ski instructor Dennis Baltimore, from Incline Village was skiing down the resort's Village Run when lost control on the snow and crashed to his eventual death.