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013011 whitefish 5

Joao Falk Neto tends to the snow under Chair 1 at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

WHITEFISH - A 54-year-old man from California died while skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort Saturday afternoon.

According to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department, the man was skiing with his son when he fell into a tree well and died.

The son realized he was alone when he got to the bottom of the run and went back to look for his father, a statement released by the department stated.

He retraced their route and found his father’s skis sticking out from the bottom of the tree.

The man's name hasn’t been released, or any additional details. He was reportedly visiting his son.

Whitefish Mountain Resort spokesperson Riley Polumbus said the man was skiing in an forested area that wasn't groomed, between the Gray Wolf and Big Horn runs.

Polumbus said she didn’t know if the man was an experienced skier.

Conditions on the mountain were windy, foggy and had “white-out” conditions Saturday, but the weather wasn’t severe enough to close the resort, Polumbus said.

She said the temperature was between 26 and 28 degrees and the resort reported seven inches of new snow by 7 a.m.

Polumbus said Whitefish Mountain officials are investigating the incident, along with the U.S. Forest Service and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.

An autopsy will be conducted at the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula to determine a cause of death, the press release stated.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the family and friends affected by this tragedy,” Polumbus said. “Any death is felt deeply by our entire Whitefish Mountain community.”

This is the third death on the mountain since December of 2010, when a German exchange student died after falling into a tree well while skiing on a groomed trail. In January 2011, a 29-year-old snowboarder also died in the same area after falling into a tree well.

The family of the exchange student recently filed suit against Whitefish Mountain Resort, contending their son should have been warned of the danger posed by tree wells.

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​Reach the Missoulian newsroom at @missoulian, at newsdesk@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5240

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