Tree Skiing

Duck into the woods to find fresh terrain and unexploited snow. This month, our instructors show you how to keep the bark from biting.At many resorts and for many skiers, the trees are the last unexplored frontier. They represent a fascinating, endlessly variable—but permanent—slalom course. But because the gates don't move when you hit them, changes in both technique and tactics are required. To learn, wait for a point in the season when there's plenty of snow cover, and explore first with an instructor or experienced local. You wouldn't want to find yourself hiking out of a dead-end canyon or lost out of bounds.[NEXT "Intermediate]SKILL LEVEL: INTERMEDIATE
Problem Can't See the Forest for the Trees
Our eyes tend to dictate where we go. Look at a tree and you will almost surely ski into it. Focus on the gaps and you should have clear sailing. Solution Look Where You Want to Go
A It's shady in the woods, so the snow is likely to be variable: powdery and cruddy. Feel with your feet and keep your eyes up, scanning the gaps ahead.
B Don't be afraid to open your stance for stability, and hit your edges with authority to control your speed. Make sure you're looking at the openings.
C Rise up and into the turn as soon as your pole has firm purchase in the snow. This will release your edges, help you unweight from gluey snow and bring you quickly to the fall line.
D The openings between trees may demand that you stay in the fall line longer than you normally would. Don't panic; be patient. Stay ready, keep your arms and upper body disciplined, and be prepared to make your next (slowing) turn smoothly.

Key Concept Zero in on the Open Spots
Nothing will cause your muscles to freeze (and your technique to break down) faster than the sense that you're stuck in a maze of trees. Some trees are tighter than others, of course, but there's almost always a way out. You're just not seeing it. Your eyes, entire upper body and hips must be attuned to the spaces between trees, not to what seems to be blocking your way.[NEXT "Advanced]SKILL LEVEL: ADVANCED
Problem Disconnected Turns
Trees, unlike slalom gates, are not necessarily evenly spaced or logically arranged. If you turn with a consistent rhythm, as you might on groomed runs, your pattern won't fit into the open spaces very well.Solution Vary Your Turn Shapes
A Look, think and plan ahead. Try not to get hung up on a particular opening, line or turn. Follow your eyes, but see the bigger picture so you can weigh your options. If it looks like you'll need to spend more time than you might like in the fall line (which is the case here), accept it.
B Some edge changes in the woods must be quick. Others, like this one, can be more leisurely.
C Turns in trees, regardless of their size and timing, should be rounded, never abrupt or jagged. A soft touch keeps your skis from diving too deep into the snow (and possible debris) below.
D Every turn offers two opportunities to slow down. The first is at the beginning (see B); the second is at the end, as we see here. Finish the turn to control speed—not harshly, but in a smooth arc.

Key Concept Be Ready to Change Tempo
Trees and subsurface rubble aren't the only obstacles in the woods. Open spaces may hold partially buried boulders, and the "wells around tree trunks can be deep and dangerous. Be prepared for a beat change in the forest's rhythm. Search with your eyes, stay in balance with an open stance, and keep your poles ready.[NEXT "Expert]SKILL LEVEL: EXPERT
Problem Poor Balancing Adjustments
Subtle changes in light, incline and snow quality can fool even the best skiers. Refine all your senses, especially touch, so you can stay balanced.Solution Read The Changes
A Be light on your feet when needed. Abruptly extending both legs can lift you within or even out of the snow when you need to make midcourse adjustments.
B Momentary weightlessness lets you gently modify your line in the air. An aerial Christie like this gives you an opportunity to accelerate, but strive to stay balanced. Keep your ski bases parallel to the snow surface.
C An accelerating turn may need to be followed by one that kills speed, especially if you ski from light into shadow. Use the natural flex in your legs from the landing to engage your edges solidly and slow yourself down.
D Then get light again, if you like. Great tree skiers tend to lengthen and shorten their legs as they jitterbug through tight places.

Key Concept Watch the Shadows!
On warm sunny days, especially in the spring, too many skiers disregard shady spots. But temperature differences between snow that's been in the sun and snow that's been shaded mean that snow texture can change entirely in the space of a few feet. Be prepared to have your skis rise to the surface and speed up in the shadows, then dive and brake suddenly when you reemerge into the sun.