Skiing and Snowboarding the Trees 101

Skiing and boarding the woods is one of the most rewarding, challenging and peaceful types of skiing, but it also carries some additional risks. Here's a basic primer on how to stay safe and have fun.

Skiing the TreesSkiing the TreesRiding a great tree section is a lot like entering a grown man's playground. Trees heighten the senses. You can smell the pine in the air, feel the presence of century-old scenery, taste snow dislodged from branches as you blow through snow-covered branches and most of the time, see untracked powder waiting for you to paint your line. However, trees are a high-risk environment, and skiing in the woods demands great technique and discipline. With the risk comes reward, as no other type of terrain offers the combination of natural scenery, hidden powder stashes and natural features. Here are some techniques and tips to remember in the trees.

Stay aware, control speed and be responsive to terrain

Stay on the balls of your feet and be ready for anything while in the trees. Deadfall (i.e. downed trees lurking under the snow), branches, bumps, and rocks can be hidden, meaning the terrain can change quickly and unexpectedly. Ski compact and with a centered stance, absorbing impacts back into your thighs and butt, not the chin. Aggressively push into turns and never hesitate. Similar to steep terrain riding, use quick radius turns and edge-to-edge transitions to ditch speed in between turns. Smear turns are a great technique to control speed through turns. As you exit a turn, slightly shift your weight to the inside toes of your uphill edge coming out of the turn. Slightly roll your uphill edge as you pivot out of the turn. Let the tails of your skis "slip" a little, dragging into the snow and slowing you down just a little bit. Smear turns can be used to a varying degree in any turn, sharp or long radius, so practice them often.

Choose quality lines

Look for realistic lines based on your ability level. It's important to plan ahead in the trees, and even though the ideal lines don't always work out, it's good to have a plan of attack. Try to envision the turns you want to make three trees ahead of you, but be ready to alter your course to account for speed, rocks or deadfall. The trees ultimately decide when and where you turn, but with experience it becomes much easier to stick to your predetermined line.

It's also good to alter your line selection depending on the type of trees your riding in. Aspens always grow close together in groups; so spot lines weaving around the clusters instead of individual trees. Pines on the other hand can often hold more space in between trees, so tighter lines are much easier to execute.

Finding great lines can be dependent on the direction you're facing as well. Learning step-around turns while standing upright opens up more options. While standing with your skis across the slope, plant your uphill pole back behind your body. At the same time, lift your downhill ski and reverse its direction to face the other way so the tips are facing in opposite directions. Immediately follow with the uphill ski once the downhill ski is in place. It will feel strange at first, but with practice changing direction in place will become an easy and beneficial skill.

Know when and how to go down

As soon as you've missed a turn, collected too much speed or lost control in any way, hit the deck. And that means right now, not after one more turn. Trying to collect yourself as you whiz by trees is never a good idea. In the case of a collision, the tree will always win, so avoiding them altogether is the best advice. It's simply too dangerous to be overconfident in the trees, so when in doubt just pull the trigger. Always fall uphill onto your side with your skis below you, and be careful not to dig your edges in too hard to stop. Sometimes the best turn is no turn.