Snowmageddon is hammering Austria and the snow cover is getting thicker by the day. As a result, we see accidents in the Alps that we normally do not see. Already two people lost their lives last week because they were suffocating in the snow. (source). The Alps are faced with a phenomenon that you rarely read about: a NARSID. In addition to avalanches, NARSIDs are an alpine danger to pay attention to. NARSID stands for Non Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Death. It's a NARSID when you are killed in the snow, but it's not caused by an avalanche.
The prevention of a NARSID is a standard part of a saftey training in Canada and the US. You do not hear much about it in Europe. The reason for this is that the treewell is the biggest problem (67% of the NARSIDs is a tree well). You speak of a NARSID when a skier or snowboarder (generally head-first) falls into a tree well (or ditch or creek), gets stuck and eventually suffocates in the snow. If you fall upside down in a treewell, it is almost impossible to get out of it yourself. The so-called comrade rescue (rescue by your friends) is therefore the only option to be saved. The figures from the American avalanche services show that 90% of the riders who ended up in a tree well or other kind of NARSID could not free themselves.
A tree well is a hole that forms around the trunk of a tree. Because of the overhanging branches of the trees, the part of the trunk up to the first branch is not filled with snow and a well is created. Such a well can become quite deep, sometimes a meter or two! It is a mix of branches, loose snow and air. You often do not see a tree well with the naked eye.
There are a number of reasons why people in North America have more to do with tree wells than riders in Europe. Since North America is working with boundaries, it is much easier to ride between the trees. In addition, the tree line in states like Colorado is much higher than in Europe and in most American ski areas there is simply more snow than in Europe. Besides treewells you can think of ditches, creeks or other natural features such as pillows and cliffs.
Now that there is so much loose snow in the northern Alps, NARSIDs are also something to be pay attention to in the Alps.
It is important to keep an eye on each other during the descent. Talk with your buddies. Keep each other in sight, communicate with sound (yodeling) or wait after an x-number of vertical. You'll understand that your chances of a rescue will increase if you see your buddy disappear. When you feel that you are falling, at least let this be known by shouting (if you still get the chance). When you fall into a treewell, try to keep your head above the snow. You can also hold a trunk or possibly some roots. Do not start wrestling with your body, the chances are that you dig yourself deeper. And further ... trust your buddy with who you are riding! If he is good, he will quickly dig you out.