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Alpine Advice from the Pro: Look at the Spaces… Not the Trees!


By Ron Kubicki

PSIA/AASI Certified Level III Alpine/Children’s Specialist II

Do not ski in the trees alone!

There are a number of places at our resorts where you can be in an isolated, unpatrolled area. Anything can happen, and if you are alone and need help, well….

If you are thinking about adventuring into the trees, here are some points to consider.

First, pick your terrain and conditions carefully. There are very mild tree-terrain areas and much more challenging terrain.

Make a sensible decision! Ski where you are comfortable.

In order to ski trees effectively, you need to be versatile, adaptable and able to make good decisions. You will need to be able to make quick short turns, hop turns, kick turns, edge checks and a myriad of other tactics. The trees will dictate where and how often you turn.

There are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself for your first tree run.

Practice and get comfortable with:

NOT LOOKING AT THE TREES! Look at the spaces between them!

Making quick, well-balanced short turns on steeper terrain.

Making hop turns – some with a skid to an edge check, others from hard edge check to hard edge check – no skid.

Making well-controlled stem turns on steep terrain.

Go in the bumps and ski the troughs with speed control.

Trees are irregularly spaced and hide a myriad of hazards. You may encounter ice, dirt, rocks, roots or fallen limbs. If there is a powder cover, you may not see these hazards and may need to react by feel and sound – not just by what you can see.

You should be able to release and engage your edges at any point in your turns to control speed or redirect your skis. You should be able to hop in balance to avoid “bad things.” You should be able to “step/stem” over a hazard. And, you should always keep your head up and look at the spaces between the trees. That is where you want to go. If you look at the trees – you’ll meet a tree up close and personal. We call that making a “bark-eater turn.”

Gather a few of your friends interested in skiing trees, find an out-of-the-way place and set up some of your poles to simulate a tree run. Then practice skiing between these “pole trees.”

Ski this course without your poles. This will improve your balance and foot speed as you will find you are much more conscious of keeping a very active, upright and athletic stance.

When you do venture into the trees, take the pole straps off your wrists. If you were to catch your pole basket or pole on a root, limb or space between trees you can be pulled off balance or injured.

Once you are comfortable with these skills, pick your day; grab a partner, undo your pole straps and head into the trees. Take your time and stop if you need to, but be careful. Someone skiing behind you may not see you.

Do not ski next to your partner, as you do not know what line they may be forced into by the trees or terrain.

Like all parts of skiing, you make the decisions that affect your day. Trees are fun, but you need to be very serious about skiing them.

As always, one of our area PSIA-E professionally trained instructors can give you more specific and personal feedback, so consider taking a group or private coaching session.

As always, I hope to catch you on the slopes.

Keep smiling … turn left, turn right… repeat!

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