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VIDEO: Skier Saves Snowboarder’s Life After Terrifying Tree Well Burial

In a harrowing video captured in Washington last week, a skier narrowly a snowboarder’s life after the man fell head-first into a tree well. The snowboarder was buried upside-down in deep snow and slowly suffocating when the skier, Francis Zuber, arrived at the scene.

At the time, Zuber was cashing in on a recent powder day in the Mt. Baker backcountry when he spotted a snowboard—and a pair of feet—sticking out of the snow. He skidded to a stop and rushed to investigate, only to discover that the snowboarder, Ian Steger, was in serious trouble.

Steger had fallen into a tree well, a pit of deep, unconsolidated snow that forms around coniferous trees in the winter. Tree wells are essentially backcountry booby traps. They’re hard to spot and avoid, and they can be deadly. Get buried upside-down, and you’re trapped with just a small pocket of air to breathe. Just as it’s impossible to dig yourself out of the snow after being caught in an avalanche, most people are unable to free themselves from tree wells without outside help. Many backcountry skiers and riders have died in exactly the scenario Steger now found himself in.

In the video footage Zuber managed to capture of the rescue, you can hear him shouting to Steger, asking him if he’s alright—and getting no response. Buried as he was, Steger couldn’t hear anything other than the sound of his own breathing.

“One of the things I was thinking about while I was down there was, wow, I’m going to die,” Steger, an experienced backcountry rider, later told ABC News. He’d been riding with several friends, but they’d gotten ahead of him. He knew he was alone.

“Hold on, I’m coming,” Zuber shouts, as he digs his way through the deep powder. He claws at the snow until he’s able to open up an air pocket around Steger’s face. Then, he uses his avalanche shovel to finish the job.

Steger and the rest of his group were “all very experienced riders, carrying proper avy gear and walkie [talkies],” Zuber wrote in his recent Instagram post on the subject. “They took a route through the trees, planning to meet up on the other side, something we’ve all done countless times. It was complete chance I came across him.”

Steger was able to walk away that day, but not all skiers and riders are so lucky. Any time you head into the backcountry, always carry an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel and make sure you’re always within eyesight and earshot of your partners. Avoid skiing or riding alone, especially on treed runs or in avalanche terrain.

“The mountains don’t care how much skill or experience you have. They don’t even care if you and your ski partners are doing everything right,” Zuber wrote. “Take an Avy 1 course, and get trained on what to do if you find yourself in this situation. I’m thankful I knew just enough to scrape by and perform a successful rescue.”

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