Nothing beats the feeling of effortlessly skiing through the trees. Some resorts are known for their groves of aspens and pine forests. However, tree skiing can also be most dangerous if you are unprepared to navigate them, so it’s a good idea to learn some tips for skiing in trees.
8 tips on how to ski in trees are:
- Wait for a good base
- Practice out of the trees
- Ski with a buddy
- Take your pole straps off
- Don’t duck ropes
- Hands forward, weight centered
- Look between the trees
- Go slow and don’t panic
Trees are one of the biggest killers of skiers, so tree skiing is not to be taken lightly. It can be tempting to ignore some of these tips, especially when powder hunting, but this could result in serious injury. Below we will explain why the list above helps you stay safe while tree skiing.
Table of Contents
8 Tips On How To Ski In Trees
1. Wait For A Good Base
Weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and not always what you would expect. Sometimes the late fall can see temperatures soaring high into the 80s and snow can be scarce. A late start to winter is why it is always good to stay on groomers until the snow base reaches 50 inches, or until midseason.
Ski resorts can make artificial snow, creating the illusion of coverage on groomers. Ultimately, resorts are trying to run a business. They want as many people as possible on the slopes for the entirety of the season. While coverage might look great on the groomers, the trees could be full of obstacles that could seriously injure you.
Obstacles In The Trees
Downed trees, stumps, and rocks are just some of the obstacles that need to be covered before venturing into the trees. About 50 inches of snow will ensure that even the largest obstacles are buried.
But even 50 inches might not be enough coverage in certain situations. For example, last September, we had winds reach hurricane strength at my home ski resort. It ripped trees out of the ground, which resulted in a forest littered with dangerous logs.
As much as the forest service tried to remove the logs, it was impossible to get all of them before the ski season’s opening. Add a slow start to the snow, and we were not going into the trees until February.
2. Practice Out Of The Trees
Tree skiing requires quick, short turns. There will not be room for you to take swooping turns to lessen your speed gradually. It is best to master these short turns on an open groomer without the threat of smacking into a tree if you fail.
One of the best ways to practice short turns for the trees is to count the seconds of your turn out loud. Allow two seconds per side before turning. Also, practicing a quick hockey stop can be helpful to ensure you have stopping control once you are in the trees.
Once you feel you have mastered the short turns, you can start taking yourself into glades that are wide set. Don’t throw yourself into the tight gamble oaks or the high-consequence pine forests until you feel ready. Choosing a lower grade will help you to maintain a comfortable speed as opposed to steep terrain.
3. Ski With A Buddy
It is hard to explain the nuances of tree skiing with words adequately. One of the best ways that I have found to learn how to ski trees is to watch someone who knows what they are doing. Watching someone choose their line in the trees is an art, so you can learn exponentially if you go with someone proficient at it.
Make sure your buddy is aware of your skill level and knows not to speed ahead. Communicating your skill level is especially important so that if you were to injure yourself, your friend could help you or get medical help for you.
Someone That Knows The Area
The forests can be confusing, so skiing with a buddy gives you the chance to navigate together. It’s even better if you find a buddy who knows the terrain well. This way, they will know what fall lines to avoid and where the widest and narrowest trees are.
When I first learned to ski trees, I followed someone who taught me the cliffs and creek beds. Even if your buddy has never skied a particular forest, advanced skiers can usually gauge the forest’s terrain better than beginners.
4. Take Your Pole Straps Off
Tree skiing with your pole straps on can be dangerous. If you were to catch a branch with your pole straps on, it could significantly injure you. Injury happens when gravity keeps your skis moving, and your pole stays in the tree branch behind you. Removing your pole straps from your wrist allows you to drop your pole if it gets stuck in a clump of branches.
You can integrate other great habits into taking your pole straps off as well. For example, coming to a stop and removing your straps also forces you to slow down and assess the trees you are about to ski between. I like to look around and pick my line while I am removing my straps.
5. Don’t Duck Ropes
If a rope separates a section of trees at a ski resort, it is not because they want to keep all the deep powder for themselves. Usually, there is a safety concern behind why a particular section is roped off.
There could be an unsuspecting cliff just over the crest of a ridgeline or a stack of downed trees ski patrol hauled from another mountain area. Another reason ropes could be employed is if a creek bed has melted in a particularly warm spring or was yet to be covered in early season fall.
The powder might look pristine from the groomer side of the rope, but if you want to keep your gear from getting big gashes and dings, it is best to wait until the ski patrol removes the rope. Not to mention that you could be jeopardizing your ski pass if ski patrol were to catch you ducking the ropes.
6. Hands Forward, Weight Centered
Edge control in the trees is vital. To have accurate edge control, first you must control your body. You don’t want your hands flailing around, sending you into a tree. Instead, you want your weight centered over your skis, ready to react in any direction to the changing forest.
Your hands should be out in front of you, aiding you only slightly in your turns. Your upper body should be relaxed while keeping your core muscles engaged. Keeping your body in control will help you make graceful turns around trees and other obstacles.
Perfecting your edge control is critical before venturing into the trees. Do not attempt to tree ski if you still need to work on your edge control – even a little bit. You will not have any room for mistakes in the trees and risk severe injury.
7. Look Between The Trees
Your skis will follow where your eyes point. It can be tempting to look at the massive pine tree you are trying to avoid, but doing so will most likely send you directly into it. So instead, look at the spaces between the trees where you want to go.
Once you look in between the trees, you can start connecting the spaces. When your eyes go from one space to another you begin to form your line. A line through the trees is simply a bunch of spaces between the trees, all connected. Once you reach one space, you look to the next space.
Disaster only occurs when fear sets in, and the eyes wander to where we do not want to go. Keeping your eyes focused on the spaces between the trees, you have a much higher chance of making clean lines through the forests.
Types Of Trees
Knowing what to expect when tree skiing can aid you in split-second decision-making. Knowing the different tree types can help you understand if the trees will become tight and bushy or wide and branchless at the bottom.
Aspen trees are the favorite of many skiers, including me, and for good reason. Aspen trees are all connected on one root system, making the spacing between them usually a perfect width of a ski turn. In addition, these trees do not typically have too many low-hanging branches. As a result, you are far less likely to catch a tree branch as you ski by.
Oaks And Pines
Gamble Oaks are brushy trees that have many thin branches that stretch out from the bottom. Early season, it is easy to get tangled up in their branches and trip up your skis. They are also notorious for grabbing your poles when you least expect them. Late season, most of the gamble oak bottoms are covered in snow, making skiing this type of forest a little easier.
Pine trees make up a good portion of the glades you are likely to run into. Skiing around these enormous trees is super fun, but they are the most hazardous. Pine trees make big tree wells. A tree well is the area directly under the tree.
Often the snow directly under the tree is loose and creates a trap for anyone that falls into one. These wells mimic avalanche conditions and can quickly suffocate you.
8. Go Slow And Don’t Panic
Especially if you are a beginner, don’t rush yourself through the trees. It can be tempting to keep up with your buddy and go fast through the deep powder, but hitting a tree at high speed can be deadly. Instead, go slow and stay calm.
Entering the trees from a stopped position is always a good idea if you’re still developing your tree skiing skills. However, if you start to feel even remotely out of control at any point in the trees, it’s best to find a space within the trees to stop, collect yourself, and continue.
Tree skiing is a highly mental game. I feel twice as exhausted skiing trees as I do a steep chute or groomer. It is so exhausting because you are constantly puzzle-solving in real-time. Going slow and staying calm gives you those extra moments to locate your next open space between the trees.
Don’t forget to breathe and relax. A panicked skier is far more likely to end up in a tree well than a composed one. A helpful trick I have picked up from yoga is to take long, steady slow breaths as you navigate the trees. Short, shallow breaths or holding your breath will only fuel any anxieties that might be building.
Skiing through the trees is one of the most rewarding experiences in the sport. To find deep stashes of powder when the groomers are bumpy and skied out makes developing these skills well worth the effort. Remember to make sure the trees are skiable and safe, never ski alone, and keep your body weight centered and hands forward.
Never look at the trees and instead look at the spaces between them to connect those spaces and form your line. When you are first learning, start slow to stay calm and avoid hitting any trees, branches, or tree wells. Once you link everything up, you too can enjoy the rewarding feeling of skiing between the trees!