A 46-year-old Kalispell man died Feb. 26 after falling into a tree well while snowboarding just beyond the ski area boundary at Whitefish Mountain Resort (WMR), prompting a search-and-rescue effort that ended in tragedy, according to local law enforcement officials and a resort spokesperson.
The victim, Matthew Gilman, had been riding with friends on Big Mountain when the group headed into off-piste, out-of-bounds terrain east of the Flower Point summit, in an area known as Ghoulie’s Ridge, with the intent of returning inbounds and regrouping at the bottom of Chair 5.
“When they got to the bottom of the chairlift the members of the party noticed he was missing and contacted ski patrol,” Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said.
At approximately 12:05 p.m., WMR Ski Patrol was dispatched to the reported tree-well incident “outside of the ski area boundary,” according to a statement WMR released Friday. Ski patrollers searched the area where the individual had last been seen and discovered the victim around 1:35 p.m., partially buried in a tree well in a gladed area above the Bigfoot T-Bar, according to Heino.
First responders performed CPR and attempted to resuscitate the victim at the scene before transporting him to North Valley Hospital’s Base Lodge Clinic, which is located at the base of the ski area. Two Bear Air and ALERT helicopters both were dispatched to extract the victim off the mountain, but first responders determined that ground transportation via toboggan was the most efficient mode of transport, according to the release from WMR.
After the patient arrived at the clinic, Big Mountain ambulance transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Heino noted that the man’s death marks the first tree-well related fatality on Big Mountain since 2018, when tree wells claimed the lives of a skier and a snowboarder in separate incidents.
Signs posted around the mountain warn skiers and snowboarders of the hazards of tree wells, which are characterized as deep, bough-covered pits that can gather loose, unconsolidated snow capable of burying a fallen skier.
“Whitefish Mountain Resort would like to remind skiers and riders of the dangers of tree wells. If you choose to ski in the trees always ski with a buddy and with a whistle,” according to a statement WMR released Friday.
For more information on tree well and deep snow safety, visit https://skiwhitefish.com/treewell-safety/.
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