Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reported its second death of the season Tuesday morning. Kelsey Hewitt, 25 and recently relocated to Jackson, fell into a tree well and suffocated.
Around 11 a.m. Hewitt was skiing the Sundance run under Bridger Gondola with her boyfriend, Neil Anderson, several sources said. During the run they became separated, and when she did not appear at the bottom of the run he rode back up the lift to look for her. She was found inverted in a tree well.
Anderson pulled her out and called ski patrol, but the injuries she sustained had already proven fatal.
Hewitt was transported to St. John’s Clinic in Teton Village and was declared dead at 11:38 a.m., Teton County Coroner Brent Blue said.
Hewitt was wearing a helmet, and Blue reported no evidence of trauma, instead recording asphyxiation as the probable cause of death.
A Teton County Sheriff’s Office investigator and Blue said Hewitt skied into a tree well, a type of accident that is not infrequent in the Rocky Mountains and is often fatal.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Risk and Safety Manager Jon Bishop disagreed with the mechanics of the accident. He said heavy snowfall the mountain received Monday night posed an immersion danger similar to falling into a tree well.
The resort reported 15 inches of new snow from Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon.
“There can be an elevated hazard with significant snowfall, whether tree wells or non-avalanche-related issues,” Bishop said. “Folks need to avoid trees, of course, particularly when it’s been a recent significant amount of snow. Ski within sight of their partners.”
The odds of surviving immersion in deep snow are particularly low. A study from the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association reported that in two experiments in which volunteers were placed in tree wells, 90 percent were unable to rescue themselves.
Teton County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Todd Stanyon said that in real life the odds can be worse.
“Avoid skiing under trees, especially when the snow is really deep,” he said. “If you become inverted in a tree well the chances of self-rescuing are nearly zero.”
The incident is similar to one almost exactly one year ago, when on Dec. 28, 2014, an Ohio man was found inverted in a ravine along Brush Alley near the Sweetwater triple chair.
Hewitt’s death is the second recorded at the resort this season. On Dec. 7, 23-year-old snowboarder Callagy Fahey Ross was found below Togwotee Pass Traverse, where she had collided with trees and was killed even though she wore a helmet.
Despite having spent time in the Cascades of northern Oregon, Hewitt was excited about finally relocating to what she had called the “real mountains.” She moved from Portland, Oregon, earlier this month to start a Tetons life with Anderson. She was employed by the resort in the rental department of Jackson Hole Sports.