Here's a terrifying experiment that will haunt your dreams, especially as winter comes on. You know those picturesque holiday cards that show pine trees in the snow? Those trees conceal literal death traps.

This is the season in which the trees are gearing up to kill you. They're not trying to kill me, as I am in California, where the snow almost never comes. But everyone on the east coast, and up in the hills is about to be surrounded by tree traps.


Not all trees are out to kill you. It's pine and fir trees that are the real problem. (Although considering we kill millions of them to pretty up our houses every Christmas, they can hardly be blamed for the attempt.) The heavy branches around the tree shelter the trunk from snow, and make what's known as a "tree well." Duck under the branches of a pine tree and there's a little hollow where the snow level drops. Because the branches have diverted the snow around the tree, the snow forms a gentle slope downwards. At the trunk of the tree, the ground can be totally bare.

It sounds charming, like a place where a faun, two squirrels, and an elf would have a sheltered tea party. Actually, it's a literal death trap, as a group of scientists found out. They put people - all volunteers - in large tree wells as an experiment. Although all the volunteers were fit and healthy, ninety percent of them could not get out of the tree well unaided. The "gentle slopes" give way, so people can't climb out. The tree trunk is bare of branches, so no one can climb the tree. The cold and the snow mean that the clock is ticking. A certain amount of time and the victim will freeze. If you don't have a quick success, your chances of getting out of the tree well just keep going down.


I have to wonder about the mechanics of the experiment. Did each volunteer get a new tree well, or did they have to thrash around in the slush and disarray created by the last person who tried to extricate themselves from the snow?

Has anyone here been trapped in a tree well?

[Via Daily Interlake.]