After you’ve grown accustomed to charging down the wide-open slopes of your favorite mountain, you may have noticed that the trees lining each side of the trail hold a particularly alluring mystique. Tree skiing, after all, brings its own unique slice of heaven in the form of deep powder, untouched lines, and incredible visibility even on days when the rest of the mountain is stuck in a whiteout.
That being said, you may feel a bit intimidated by the prospect of plowing through the woods and dodging obstacles. It’s not always easy to see the line for the trees, much less a whole forest of lines, so here are a few tips for dialing in your tree skiing/riding.
1.Ski with a buddy.
As awesome as the visibility is directly in front of you, it can be easy to lose your way in the woods. Especially if you’re new to tree skiing, make sure you don’t go solo. As you’re making your way through the trees, it’s always a good idea to check-in with your buddy or crew every few turns.
2. Practice making short turns on the open slope.
Before you sign up for the real deal, stop for a moment while you’re out on one of your favorite wide open trails or bowls and imagine a lineup of trees below you. Practice making short, quick turns down the slope through the imaginary forest and it will help mentally and physically prepare you for the trees.
3. Start out in wider glades.
As you become increasingly obsessed with skiing trees, you’ll inevitably have to transform into a human paperclip once or twice to maneuver through a particularly tight pair of pines. But when you’re first getting started, there’s no need to test out your shoulder width—there are plenty of glades out there that allow for broad, loose turns as you’re learning. These are the ones to practice in before you work your way toward narrower paths.
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4. Look ahead and anticipate your turns.
It’s always a good idea to stop and scan ahead, planning your next four to five turns. Be sure to note if there are lumps along your planned route and know that you will maneuver around these as well, since they are likely stumps or bushes.
5. Slow down.
You are not Mikaela Shiffrin dodging trees like slalom gates at lightning pace—don’t feel like you have to go mach speed. Even when your next few turns are planned, take your time with them to build confidence turning through obstacles. After all, trees don’t move and often have low-hanging branches that can sneak up on you if you’re approaching them too quickly.
6. Don’t look at the trees.
They tell you this when you’re learning to drive, too. If you are staring directly at the obstacle in front of you, chances are you will run right into it. Plant your gaze where you want to turn and your skis or board will follow. You should always keep your eyes ahead of you and fixed on the white line between the trees, as if it were a twisty road down which you are solidly steering.
7. Wait until mid-season when there is a decent base.
No resort has snow guns aimed at the glades and even when numerous snowstorms have pounded the ski area, it takes a while for a safe base to accumulate in the trees. The end of January is usually a tried and true timeline for dipping into the woods.
8. Keep your hands forward and weight centered.
Just as if you’re skiing moguls or variable snow, you want to keep your boxing hands ready and maintain an aggressive stance. This will help you stay upright and allow you to easily tap into your quick reflexes, which come into play as you’re making shorter turns than you’re typically used to out on the open slope.
9. Make short but round turns.
Some people think that jump turns are in order for tree skiing, but that is not the case. Like skiing powder (which you usually are in the trees), it’s best to make short turns, but in such a way that the tail of your skis or board follows in the same line as the nose, forming an arc rather than an angle.
10. Never duck ropes to reach trees.
When you venture into the woods, make sure that you only do so where they are opened to the slope or accessed through a gate. If there is a rope or fence between the trail and the woods, that means they are off-limits.
As with skiing or riding any kind of terrain, tensing up your muscles only serves to exhaust you. Take a deep breath and visualize being light on your feet and floating on top of the snow between the trees. Remember, you’re in control and life doesn’t get any better than this.
Featured image provided by © Vail Resorts
12. When you are about to return to the main trail, STOP. Look up the hill to make sure there is no one coming down along the edge of the trail. NEVER exit the trees to a main run without stopping and/or yielding! (You might get away with yielding in a deciduous forest, but if there are conifers obscuring the view you must come to a full stop!)
Just hope you get there before the boarders do as they will make it unskiiable, especially in tight trees on steeper slopes.
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