(Updated: adding video, comments from victim's father)
Skier, snowboarder suffocated in tree wells on the same day in March 2018
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The light, fluffy powder is what so many Mt. Bachelor skiers and snowboarders crave when they hit the slopes. But it also brings an increased danger of tree wells. Air pockets form in between the snowpack and branches of trees, all hidden under fresh snow. Riders can fall in the tree well and suffocate.
In March of 2018, two visitors never made it down the mountain.
Alfonso Braun, 24, of Bend and 19-year-old Nicole Panet-Raymond of Eugene both fell into tree wells and died, on the same day.
In 2020, both families filed a lawsuit against Mt. Bachelor, suing the resort for $15 million each, alleging several ways Mt. Bachelor was negligent and failed to protect them.
In each death, the lawsuit claims 11 reasons -- including failing to mark the tree wells or monitor them. Also included, is the alleged failure to adequately educate and inform visitors about tree wells and their risks.
Mt. Bachelor denies the allegations and in response lists eight reasons why each victim is at fault for their death, Including failure to educate themselves on the risks, maintain control and judge their own abilities.
Alfonso Braun's father, Eduardo, struggles to accept that defense by the resort.
"If you have four accidents on the highway, they will fix that turn, they will do something," Braun said Friday. "They will close it, they will fix it."
Braun and Panet-Raymond are not the only people who've died on the mountain in similar fashion.
The issue came tragically to light once again on New Year's Eve. Experienced mountaineer Birkan Uzun, a native of Cyprus, died after falling into a tree well at Mt. Bachelor last Friday. It was the fifth such death at Mt. Bachelor in the past 20 years.
"It hurt me more that some other kid died," said Braun. "So that's why we're doing the lawsuit, to try to make it public to take action or do something."
"And so this never happens again, because this is going to happen every year."
Mt. Bachelor currently has a safety alert on their website warning of tree well dangers. There's also a page dedicated only to tree well safety.
Eduardo Braun says his son was an experienced snowboarder and always bought a season pass.
"He was so happy. He was a very good kid -- very good kid," said Braun.
The lawsuit is stalled in court, in part due to the pandemic.
Four years later, Braun is frustrated, waiting for action on their claims.