Tree Skiing

Tree skiing most commonly refers to skiing off the groomed slopes, in and among trees of various sizes, shapes and types. It is exhilarating and easily accessible at any ski area in North America. The U.S and Canada are said to offer the best tree skiing in the world because, on a grand scale, the mountains of North America don’t reach the barren heights of Europe’s Alps and South America’s ski resorts.

Once you venture off groomed trails and into any glades you need to know you are increasing the possibility of being hurt, i.e. running into a tree. Trees are not bendable slalom poles. There is no give to a tree and a head-on, or even an arm smack, can cause serious injury. However, that being said, and hopefully understood without the need for practice, here are a number of precautions to take to make tree skiing as safe as possible.

For the most part, tree skiing means quick, short turns - many of them. If the glade is marked double black or higher, expect sudden or protracted areas combining the trees with steep verticals, bumps, cliffs, and other fun obstacles. Be sure you are ready to ski there.

Ideally, ski with two friends, one to stay with someone injured and one to go for help. It doesn’t take more than maybe 10 or 20 feet to lose sight of a person in the woods.

In a ski resort setting the area boundaries are generally marked by tree signs, snow fences or ropes. Don’t randomly ski past the boundary markers because that area is not routinely patrolled.
A good general rule is not to enter the woods after 3:30 PM, because if you get lost, getting found quickly, after dark, is problematic.

The lower the elevation, the closer together the trees are, and that can be very close together. Don’t focus on the trees, look into the spaces between the trees - the body tends to initially follow the eye.

The big issue tree skiing in the deep snow country is tree wells. Tree wells are areas of very loose uncompressed snow that form a hole or depression around the base of a tree. The risk of falling into a tree well is completely avoidable, so assume all trees have a hazardous tree well. Do not ski close to the tree and always ski with a buddy.