How to Ski or Snowboard in Trees

For many skiers and boarders, the open slopes of a resort offer all that’s needed for a fun day. But if you’ve ever spotted tracks heading off into the trees and been tempted to follow, it may be time to try the trees.

There are several reasons to consider venturing into the trees: making turns around trees is fun and dynamic, and there’s often powder snow to be found long after the open slopes are wholly tracked out. But before you go, you need to know the risks and be sure you’re confident with a few essential skills.

Tree skiing/riding when there’s not enough snow or when the snow is too icy or firm can be very challenging. Without enough snow on the slopes, you’re more likely to get caught up in branches that aren’t fully buried, and you may even damage your gear by running over rocks and trees. When the snow is icy or firm, you can quickly pick up too much speed and lose control. Ski resorts usually do an excellent job of marking areas that don’t have enough snow and may close off icy regions, but you must also use good judgment. To avoid getting caught up in branches, you generally need to wait until solid bases now base built up and the underbrush is buried. To avoid icy, firm slopes, it’s wise to pay attention to the weather—if you know it was warm and sunny the previous day, but it’s freezing today, then the snow is likely to be solid until it has a chance to warm up and soften. Check the resort website for a snow report, or ask an employee for an update before you venture into the trees.

Never Duck the Ropes

The allure of fresh tracks may tempt you to head outside the resort boundaries or into a closed-off area where no one else is going. But the ropes are there for a reason—to keep you from going somewhere you shouldn’t—so even if an out-of-bounds line is calling your name, don’t duck the ropes. Not only is it potentially dangerous, but doing so may result in a revoked pass and a fine.

Start in Widely Spaced Trees

When you feel ready to head into the trees for the first time, seek out a spot with widely spaced trees—there’s no need to test yourself with tight trees. To find a good place, look at a trail map or ask a resort guide for a recommendation. It’s also wise to look for trees on the edge of an open, groomed run. That way, you can make a few turns in the trees, then head back out into the open for a few turns. As you get more comfortable, you’ll be able to increase your time in the trees.

Go with a Buddy

If you’re venturing into the trees, always go with a buddy and have a plan for keeping track of each other. Heading into the trees presents specific hazards that the open slopes don’t. Getting lost in the woods, colliding with a tree, or falling into a tree well (more on tree wells below) are all possibilities. Some people like to leapfrog; others prefer to ride alongside each other. However you do it, the goal is to stay close enough that you can hear and see one another.

Beware of Tree Wells

A tree well is an area of loose, unconsolidated snow that forms around the base of a tree. Low-hanging branches can disguise tree wells, making them difficult to recognize. They become dangerous when a skier or snowboarder tumbles into a tree well and gets trapped in the deep, loose snow. Tree wells can be challenging to get out of and can cause snow immersion suffocation. To help avoid this fate, you must stay in control and give trees a wide berth. As we said above, you must ski with someone else and keep them in sight. It sounds harsh, but if you can’t see your partner, it may be too late to save them.

Practice in Powder

One of the reasons many choose to head into the trees is to find powder snow that hasn’t already been skied out. But tackling powder can be tricky if you’ve never done it before, especially if it’s intense. So, if this is your objective, you’ll need to practice before going into the trees for the first time. You can try out softer snow by simply exploring the edges of the groomed runs or going down an ungroomed run at the resort on a day with fresh snow.

Wear a Helmet and Goggles

Skiing or boarding among the trees means, at some point, you may have a close encounter with a tree. A helmet and goggles do an excellent job of shielding your head and eyes from pokes and scrapes, and the helmet adds a level of protection should you have a more severe impact. But remember, a helmet doesn’t make you invincible, and its security is limited.

If Using Poles, Remove Your Hands from Straps

Ski poles can sometimes get snagged on branches when maturninghrough a treed area. To avoid getting your shoulder yanked, take your hands out of your pole straps before you head down the hill and let go of a pole if you feel firm resistance. Being able to free yourself from your bars is also crucial if you fall into a tree well—you need to be able to move your arms to have any chance of digging yourself out, and having your hands in your poles straps can restrict your movement.

Visualize Your Line

Finding your way through the trees starts with visualizing your line down the slope. To do this, don’t fixate on the trees but rather on the white spaces between them—this will help you steer where you want to go rather than where you don’t. (That said, being in the trees also means you need to constantly scan the terrain ahead of you so you can adjust to trees, rocks, stumps, and other obstacles that may be in your way.) Look about one or two turns ahead when you start down the slope. If it’s too challenging to visualize your line when you’re on the move, make a couple of turns, stop, then look ahead for the next couple of turns. You can work on improving your ability to observe your surroundings while skiing or snowboarding by practicing on the open slopes at the resort. During your descent, try counting how many times you see a particular object along the way—perhaps it’s the number of snowmaking guns or skiers wearing white helmets. Focusing on your surroundings like this will be helpful when you get in the trees.

Practice Making Quick Turns

Turning quickly will help you respond to sudden changes in terrain or a tree that seems to pop up out of nowhere. You can practice making quick turns on the groomed slopes before heading into the trees—find a straight, open slope and see how many turns you can make in a given distance. Keep your turns compact by not straying too far to the right or left. Another good way to practice this is to play “follow the leader” down the hill. Tell a friend that you want them to turn frequently but randomly, then have them take off ahead of you. Your job is to try to follow them (at a safe distance) and turn when they turn.

Keep Your Speed Under Control

Going too fast can make choosing a good line through the forest challenging and potentially dangerous if you can’t turn in time to avoid a tree. It’s a good idea to head into the trees with less speed than you’d usually have on the open slopes. This will give you time to adjust and turn around obstacles that are in your way.

Form Tips for Snowboarders

For boarders, remember to get into a good stance and steer with your front foot. For your view, keep your knees and ankles slightly flexed and your knees in line with your toes. Your shoulders and hips should align with your snowboard, and your upper body should be calm and relaxed.

Form Tips for Skiers

For skiers, you want to be in an athletic stance that keeps your weight centered on the skis. You should have a slight bend in your knees and lean forward, so your shoulders are in front of your hips. This will allow you to respond quickly to uneven terrain or a tree that suddenly comes into view. Avoid leaning back too much as this will throw you off balance and may cause you to disappear.

Skiing with a slightly narrower stance than you may typically do on open slopes will help ensure that your skis go on the same side of a tree, rock, or stump rather than ending up awkwardly split on either side.

Skiing with a low edge angle (with your bases close to the surface of the snow rather than steeply tilted on their edges) makes it possible to skid around obstacles if needed. Also, it makes it easier to stay in control (skiing with a high edge angle can send you zooming across the slope much too quickly).

11 Tips for Skiing the Trees Without Fear

Ski with a buddy. As excellent as the visibility is directly in front of you, you can quickly lose your way in the woods. Especially if you’re new to tree skiing, make sure you don’t go solo. As you’re making your way through the trees, it’s always a good idea to check in with your buddy or crew every few turns.

2. Practice making short turns on the open slope. Before signing up for the real deal, stop while you’re out on one of your favorite wide-open trails or bowls and imagine a lineup of trees below you. Practice making short, quick turns down the slope through the imaginary forest; it will help mentally and physically prepare you for the trees.

3. Start in wider glades. As you become increasingly obsessed with skiing trees, you’ll inevitably have to transform into a human paperclip once or twice to maneuver through a particularly tight pair of pines. But when you’re first starting, there’s no need to test out your shoulder width—plenty of meadows allow for broad, loose turns as you learn. These are the ones to practice before you work toward narrower paths.

4. Look ahead and anticipate your turns. Stop and scan ahead; planning your next four to five turns is always a good idea. Be sure to note if there are lumps along your planned route and know that you will maneuver around these as well since they are likely stumps or bushes.

5. Slow down. You are not Mikaela Shiffrin dodging trees like slalom gates at lightning pace—don’t feel like you have to go much speed. Even when your next few turns are planned, take your time with them to build confidence in turning through obstacles. After all, trees don’t move and often have low-hanging branches that can sneak up on you if you’re approaching them too quickly.

6. Don’t look at the trees. They tell you this when you’re learning to drive, too. If you stare directly at the obstacle in front of you, you will run right into it. Plant your gaze where you want to turn, and your skis or board will follow. You should always keep your eyes ahead of you and fix on the white line between the trees as if it were a twisty road down which you are solidly steering.

7. Wait until mid-season when there is a decent base.No resort has snow guns aimed at the meadows, and even when numerous snowstorms have pounded the ski area, it takes a while for a safe base to accumulate in the trees. The end of January is a tried and accurate timeline for dipping into the woods.

8. Keep your hands forward and weight centered. If you’re skiing moguls or variable snow, you must keep your boxing hands ready and maintain an aggressive stance. This will help you stay upright and easily tap into your quick reflexes, which come into play as you’re making shorter turns than you’re typically used to out on the open slope.

9. Make short but round turns. Some people think that jump turns are for tree skiing, but that is not the case. Like skiing powder (which you usually are in the trees), it’s best to make short turns, but in such a way that the tail of your skis or board follows in the same line as the nose, forming an arc rather than an angle.

10. Never duck ropes to reach trees. When you venture into the woods, ensure that you only do so where they are opened to the slope or accessed through a gate. If there is a rope or fence between the trail and the woods, that means they are off-limits.

11. Relax as with skiing or riding any terrain; tensing up your muscles only serves to exhaust you. Take a deep breath and visualize being light on your feet and floating on top of the snow between the trees. Remember, you’re in control, and life doesn’t get any better than this.


If the snow is soft and deep, riding in the trees is one of the best times you can have on your snowboard and is a great alternative to higher-altitude alpine snowboarding on bad weather days (and infinitely better than bumming around in your pants all day).

The snow in between the trees stays untracked for longer, is much less likely to slide, and allows you to get away from the crowds.

That said, here are a few tips to think about before you go plunging into the woods with your snowboard.


One of the first things to think about before you head into a set of trees for the first time is depth of snow. Early season tree-riding can be particularly dangerous if felled trees and rocks lie just below the surface.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re shredding before the 1st of January, be sure to ride lightly, with more weight on your back-foot to reduce the risk of hooking your nose, and steer clear of what appear to be random lumps of ‘snow’ that you’ll soon find aren’t as deep or as soft as you think


Because trees mask the topography of the ground that they lie on, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the terrain will be like inside a given cluster.

Knowing the areas either side the trees in question will give you a good indicator of the overall pitch. A steeper slope will help your board to float more easily above any powder, but will require quicker reactions and turns, which takes more skill. Flatter pitches will be mellower when it comes to turning but will force you to make more calculated terrain and speed decisions so you don’t end up stuck in the flats.

Tree density is another thing to suss out, with super-tight trees requiring better timing and coordination. Some resorts feature special in-bounds ‘gladed’ runs, where a number of trees have been selectively plucked from the forest, making everything easier to ride.


Once you’re in the trees, one of the biggest tips we can give when working on your technique and finding your rhythm is to focus on the gaps between trees rather than the trunks themselves. As a general rule of thumb, where you look is where you’ll ride to, so focusing on the spaces between trees will help with planning subsequent turns in advance. If the snow is deep, try to keep moving and only stop in spots where it will be easy to get going again.

Hitting trees plain sucks. You can be the biggest hippy tree-hugger in the world but as you’ll discover (if you haven’t already), they sure as hell won’t hug you back. Try to avoid the temptation to reach out for branches as you ride past them because 9.5 times out of 10 they’re more solid than you expect.


It’s always a good idea to know where you’re going to be when you eventually pop out (no doubt grinning from ear to ear) from a particular set of trees. Whether that may be another piste, or a familiar spot in the backcountry, you should have a solid idea of where you’re trying to get to rather than just diving into the woods blind.

There’s nothing worse than getting so into your run that you end up waaay down from where you needed to be – often resulting in a long hike out, or at best, an unplanned bus ride back into town.

Riding with someone who already knows the area is a huge bonus if you’re unfamiliar with the terrain – just be sure they’re actually slightly less clueless than you are!


If you’re lucky enough to have scored some decent powder on your trip and you know that there has been a good amount of snow earlier in the season, it’s important to be clued-up on the dangers of tree wells.

Tree wells most commonly form around evergreen coniferous trees that hold their leaves all year round, and are essentially areas around the base of the trunk where the snow can be deceptively thick, but much less densely packed.

Losing control and falling head-first into this lightly packed snow around the trees


Try to identify landmarks as you ride through a set of trees so that if you return to that zone again you’ll be able to find your way.

Small cliff bands, valleys and clearings in the trees can all be used as reference points as you cruise.

Does the length of a snowboard matter?

Ability Level. Beginners should choose a shorter snowboard than they would if they were more advanced. A shorter snowboard is easier to maneuver and easy to manage when you are just starting. As a rule, you should take between 3 and 5cm off your snowboard’s length.

What happens if your snowboard is too long?

The wrong size board could make your board harder to control than it should be, hindering your improvement as a rider. A board that is too long becomes challenging to maneuver; too short, and it will become unstable to ride as your speed increases.

Should my snowboard be taller than me?

Generally speaking, if you are a beginner, go with a shorter board (3-5cm more straightforward). Anyone intermediate and up should not consider ability level when determining length. A longer board is more difficult to control.

How long do snowboards last?

An average snowboard should last a rider between 150 and 200 days of riding. Assuming you handle your board relatively well and don’t grind the base on every rock, a rider should experience about 100 days of high riding quality from a new board. The following 50 days will not be as good but still enjoyable.

How heavy is too heavy to snowboard?

Riders weighing more than 270 pounds should be more careful about using snowboards. Over 270 pounds of weight can affect both the rider and the snowboard. Lighter-weight riders are more suitable for flexible and smooth riding.

Are longer snowboards faster?

Technically speaking, the longer boards are BETTER for speed as they are more stable, not because they are faster. Gravity is exerting a force on your mass and pulling it downhill. The only thing stopping you is friction between the board base and the snow.

Is a more miniature snowboard easier to learn on?

A short snowboard is more accessible to turn than a long one, but a longer board will be more stable at speed when it tends to bounce around and wobble less than a shorter one as more of the board will be in contact with the snow.

What width should my waist be for snowboarding?

As a consensus among the big-footed experts here, you should stick to a waist width above 258mm/25.8cm if you’re rockin’ size 11 or 11.5 boots. For a size 12 and up, you’ll probably feel most comfortable on a waist width minimum of 260-265mm/26.0-26.5cm.

What is a sidecut on a snowboard?

A sidecut is the arcing, hourglass-like curve that runs along your edge from tip to tail. How profound that curve defines how your board turns. If you think of the sidecut as an arc, imagine that this arc is part of a larger circle. The deeper the sidecut, the smaller the process (and the radius).

Is a longer snowboard better for jumps?

It depends on personal preference; shorter boards will spin more easily while longer boards will provide more stability on jump landings.

Do snowboards wear out?

This means that, on average, a snowboard will be good for 75-90 days of riding. After that, the board will still be OK to ride but may start feeling a little tired and lifeless.

About De Hua

De Hua is a former New Yorker who now lives at the beach. She received a double B.A. in International Relations and Marketing from The College of William & Mary and an M.A. in Interactive Journalism from American University. De Hua has been published in The Washington Post, New York Daily News, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among others.How We Tested and Reviewed

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