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Ode to the Panty Tree

Why skiers throw lacy things on trees.

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by Scott Gornall

No one knew where—or whom—the slinky garment came from. But there it was. A silky black thong strewn carelessly in front of our stereo, an artifact from a kegger we’d hosted at some point. Like a trio of stoned archaeologists, my roommates and I tried to deduce which coed could have haphazardly de-pantied herself in our living room. We pointed fingers. We came up with a list of suspects. But no solid conclusions. That’s when inspiration struck. I grabbed the frilly black mystery britches and shoved ’em in a pocket on my ski jacket. I knew of a place for wayward thongs—the Panty Tree in Vail’s Sun Down Bowl. I had seen the tree while riding Chair 5 out of the Back Bowls. Just feet away from the lift, the leafless aspen was festooned with panties, bras, and an assortment of beads—an arboreal Mardi Gras. Some say the underthings are trophies from ski-town conquests. Or maybe they’re an eternal mystery like the Easter Island statues. 

Though the exact origins are debated, it’s widely accepted that the erection of the first-ever panty tree began in the early ’80s at Aspen Mountain when someone threw a plus-size bra onto an aspen underneath the Bell Mountain chair. As Bell Mountain stopped running on a regular basis, Vail’s bedecked hardwood rose to fame, only to have panty-patrol moralists chop it down in the late ’90s. Locals christened a new naughty tree and the tradition lived on. Grand Marnier even ran a print advertisement that read, “You just recognized a pair of panties in the Sun Down Bowl tree… The conversation is waiting.” The marketing wizards had spoken: Skiers love panties.

Three months after the unresolved case of the missing bum floss, a high school friend from back East paid me a visit. We went to Vail. As we rode up Chair 5, I fumbled through my pockets looking for a lighter (for incense, we were going to burn some incense). But instead of a trusty Bic, I pulled out what felt like a goggle pouch. It was the thong. I’d forgotten about it. I had to act fast. The tree was only a couple hundred feet away. I lobbed the lacy grenade and it snagged a branch, hanging there as another leaf on the Panty Tree. It had found its place in the home of lost underwear—and I had helped its long, possibly soiled, trip.

I glowed with pride. My friend said, “Wait, you carry women’s underwear around with you?” I looked at him and said, “You’re goddamn right I do.”

Four Reasons to Keep Trees Thong-Free
Pangs of conscience from Bill Josey, licensed arborist and owner of Arbor Care Resource in Hailey, Idaho.

1. Underwear or Mardi Gras beads can wrap around a branch and girdle the tree. Girdling is like strangling. No one wants to be strangled by panties or beads.

2. The more things hanging on a tree, the more snow caught by the branches. This causes more snow load and breakage. There’s also the birds, squirrels, and raccoons. Panties provide them with tons of material for nesting.

3. Reflection from shiny, special underwear could possibly burn the needles.

4. The lack of sunlight from being completely covered could cause needle dropping and less-vigorous growth in the summer.