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Man dies in tree well accident on Big Mountain

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | March 3, 2021 12:50 AM

A Kalispell man died Friday after falling into a tree well while snowboarding outside the boundary of Whitefish Mountain Resort. According to Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino, the man was identified as Matt Gilman, 46. He was snowboarding with friends when the incident occurred.

An autopsy at the Montana State Crime Lab is pending. Ski patrol was alerted to the incident at 12:05 p.m. on Friday and responded to the last known area where the individual was said to have been seen and found Gilman in a tree well around 1:35 p.m. below the Ghoulie Point area, according to information from the resort.

Gilman and his friends reportedly had planned to ski the out-of-bounds terrain and meet at the base of Chair 5 on the East Rim. CPR was performed at the scene and Gilman was transported to North Valley Hospital’s Base Lodge Clinic, and from there Big Mountain ambulance transported the patient to the hospital. Two Bear Air and ALERT helicopters were dispatched, but it was determined that ground transportation via toboggan was the most efficient mode of transport.

A tree well is the space around a tree under its

branches and because the space doesn’t get the same amount of snow as the surrounding area it creates a void or area of loose snow below the branches and around the trunk. A tree-well accident occurs when a rider or skier falls into that area under the tree and the person can often become trapped in the snow.

The resort reminds skiers and riders to always ski with a partner, assume all trees have hazardous tree wells thus avoid skiing near trees, and that skiing and riding on groomed runs is recommended to help avoid tree wells and deep snow hazards.

The last tree-well related death on Big Mountain was in 2018. The resort reminds skiers and riders of the dangers of tree wells, and more information is available on its safety page at https://skiwhitefish. com/treewell-safe-