Aerial Tram Valley Station

A snowboarder was found dead in a tree well Monday morning at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The Virginia man, Daniel Tatum, 27, was visiting the Tetons with friends, resort spokeswoman Anna Cole said.

Tatum became separated from his friends around 10:45 a.m. Sunday. When he didn’t show up at the end of the day at their agreed-upon meeting time, the friends notified ski patrol around 5 p.m.

Ski patrollers led a search that included other resort employees Sunday night, searching until around 8:45. Without light and unable to locate Tatum in what Cole called a “very heavily treed and gladed area,” they suspended the search, returning around 6:30 a.m. Monday.

With help from Grand Teton National Park rangers and Teton County Search and Rescue, patrollers found Tatum unresponsive in a tree well after seeing his snowboard. Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said Tatum died Sunday, but details on the exact time, cause and manner of death were still pending.

According to DeepSnowSafety.org, a tree well is a depression that forms at the base of a tree when its branches keep snow from consolidating. The wells can be a mix of tree branches, snow and air, and many of the fatalities that occur in them are from snow immersion suffocation.

From 2008 to 2018 there were 41 reported fatalities resulting from snow immersion suffocation incidents at U.S. ski areas, an average of four a year.

Many skiers or riders who die from these events fall headfirst, and the website says 90% of them are unable to self-rescue.

Ski partners are instrumental in saving those trapped in tree wells because the average time for ski patrol to find and extricate someone from a tree well is 15 hours.

“We are saddened to report this fatality, and the staff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort join me in expressing our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the victims,” resort President Mary Kate Buckley said in a press release.

Contact Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington at 732-7078 or rebecca@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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