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Skier suffocates in Crystal Mountain tree well; ski patrol says new snow increases risk

A skier has died at Crystal Mountain after suffocating in a tree well. The resort has received over 94 inches of snow in the past nine days. (Crystal Mountain image)

A skier has died at Crystal Mountain after falling and suffocating in a tree well. Ski patrol officials say this type of accident is more common in times of new, heavy snowfall like we've seen in the past week.

35-year old Loren Miller got separated from his partner while skiing Wednesday afternoon. The partner notified the ski patrol, which launched a search in the area.

A ski patroller spotted some equipment near the base of a tree in the deep snow, and found the victim buried in a tree well. The victim was unresponsive, and the patroller could not revive him despite performing CPR.

"We did find the guy within five minutes of being notified. Unfortunately, the total time of this immersion was probably a couple hours. This is a very quick acting thing that happens and two hours is just way, way too long," says the resort's ski patrol director Paul Baugher.

Snow immersion suffocation can happen when a skier falls, usually headfirst, into deep loose snow at the base of a tree and becomes immobilized under the snow.

"It is a phenomenon where a skier either gets upside down in regular powder snow or most commonly it is associated with a tree well where somebody falls into that void of a mix of air and snow around the base of a tree that forms in the winter," says Baugher. "It typically happens when there's been at least two feet of snow or more and right now we've had a lot more than that."

Crystal Mountain Resort received 19 inches of snow in the past 24 hours, and a total of 94 inches in the past 9 days. Baugher says this type of incident is most common in areas like ours that have a lot of trees.

"They're most common in these Western coniferous forests that have lots and lots of trees and great powder skiing in the trees which is one of the wonderful things about where we live but with that comes in the inherent risks of powder skiing in these kinds of areas."

When you're skiing off the groomed runs, Baugher says its very important to keep your partner in sight.

"This serves as an unfortunate and sad reminder of how important it is to ski and ride with a partner, and keep them in sight, especially where there's a lot of new and unsettled snow."

The large amounts of snow we've been getting has also increased avalanche risk in the region.

The Weather Service was expecting another 4-to-8 inches of snow Thursday in the Washington Cascades where several feet of snow have fallen in the past week-and-a-half.

The Northwest Avalanche Center says the avalanche danger in the Cascades remains high.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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