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Over the years, I’d gotten confident skiing practically anything on the mountain. But stick me in the trees, and I was a scared kid on my first day of school. I’d make a single turn or maybe two, then come to a dead stop and peer over my shoulder at the buried stump I’d nearly smacked.
Sometimes I’d follow friends who were better skiers than I was—watching their rhythm helped me find mine. I gradually improved, but periodically I’d ski into extra-dense forests and find myself twisted around and facing uphill.
Then John Egan, the extreme-skiing pioneer from the ’80s, member of the Vermont Ski Hall of Fame, and Vice President and Chief Recreation Officer at Sugarbush, took me for a run. “Fear is a skier’s number-one hindrance in the trees,” Egan told me. “An experienced skier reads snow like a rafter reads a river.” He helped me learn how to plan my run in advance, slow myself down with wide turns, and relax into a rhythm that felt natural.
He also taught me how to control my falls if I take a digger in the trees. “Never give up until you stop moving,” he said. “Never let the fact that you’re no longer skiing change your choice of trajectory. Push, tuck, and roll so you don’t bounce into the next tree. It’ll keep you from twisting.”
How to Ski Trees
Use the Buddy System
Bring a buddy, and leapfrog in voice contact or ski tandem within sight of each other in case one of you needs rescue from a tree-well fall (a dangerous scenario that could result in injury or suffocation) or an injury.
Visualize Your Line
Look for the spaces between the trees, and that’s where your tips will go. But focus on the trees and you’ll ski toward them. Also, it’s easy to get disoriented in the woods, so know which direction you need to veer to get out of the trees.
Maintain a Strong Athletic Stance
Avoid the urge to lean back in an effort to avoid the trees. Stay over the top of your skis in a basic athletic stance, prepared to absorb uneven terrain and change directions on the fly.
Bring your hands up in front of your face to protect yourself from getting scratched by a branch. Also, maintaining your hands and poles in your field of view will ensure your stance stays over the top of your skis. When your hands drop down and back, your body will too.
Beware of Surroundings
Know what’s below you. Avoid hollow, rotten snow and creekbeds. Watch out for twigs—there could be buried trees attached.
Pepare for Chokes
Where to Learn: Ski Resorts with Awesome Glades
Jay Peak Resort, Vermont
Tackle Timbuktu or André’s Paradise on your own, or sign up for a two-hour glade clinic and get a tour plus instruction whether you’re a beginner or an expert.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Mad River Glen, Vermont
On a powder day, slash GS turns in the always-deep Shadows and Closet glades off Sundown chair.
Red Mountain, British Columbia
Red Mountain’s legendary tree skiing is alive and well—and not to be missed—in the Pale Face Chutes, where severe vertical meets subalpine glades. Some of the best fall-line tree skiing in the West is accessed off Granite Mountain.
Originally written by Berne Broudy and published October, 2009.