A Bend woman is lucky to be alive after falling into a tree well while snowboarding on Mount Bachelor.
Francesca McLean was snowboarding with her husband and two friends on Friday. They were coming down Outback when she made a turn a few feet off the groomed run and fell over backwards, headfirst into a tree well.
“Initially, I panicked. I was moving around. It took a few seconds to realize I was in a tree well and to settle down,” McLean said. “There was this battle inside myself over freaking out or calming down. I took a deep breath. The snow was light enough I was able to move my left arm and I was able to scoop the snow out of my mouth and make a little pocket of air.”
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McLean started yelling for help. Fortunately, one of her boarding buddies was nearby and heard her faint cries.
“He took his skis off. He yelled ‘Can you breathe?’ What I thought I heard was ‘Can you hear me?’ He started unstrapping my legs and that made me panic a little. Why was I not getting out?”
McLean’s not sure how long she was in the tree well. She thinks it was five minutes.
By the time Ben Smith dug her out, she was gasping for breath.
“Whenever someone goes off the groomed trail, tree well immersion can be an issue especially during early season like now,” said Johnny Sereni, Director of Marketing & Communications for Mt. Bachelor. “We’ve had a good three or four feet of snow and it hasn’t had time to compact whether it be by sun, by skiers and riders or by grooming machines. So therefore it can be low density and a bit more of an issue.”
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A tree well or snow immersion suffocation accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls, usually headfirst, into a tree well or deep loose snow and becomes immobilized.
Similar to the effects of an avalanche, the incident can leave the skier buried without air, leading to suffocation.
“I’m definitely feeling fortunate and grateful that we took the time to stay in a pack and watch each other. I’m grateful that I had a friend who took his time and watched where I was.”
McLean is a regular on Mount Bachelor. She and her husband got married on the mountain earlier this year.
She continues to snowboard but says she is leery of going near small trees. She wants others to know the risk is real.