Monday, March 8, 2010

Skiing the Glades - Trees

So here you are, trying to feel like a young maverick skier going off the trails and into the trees - just hoping that someone passing overhead on the charlift will spot you and give out a loud "WHOOT" of approval and impressiveness (is that a word?).

And then, just before you are about to follow your all too expert friend off the side of a cliff with thick forests of trees that look like they could swallow you whole, you realize, "Wait, how the (insert favorite four-letter word here) am I supposed to do this?"
Beaver Creek again. Subzero temperatures and lots of icy slopes. We did manage to find some good snow however in Thrasher Glade on the main face. Picture by David Barton.
Fear not. I have your advice right here.

Call ski patrol.

And then before next time, read some of my advice here:

The Glades (The Ones Not in Florida)

The most basic and primary thing you want to do when skiing the trees is simple - look for the empty spaces.

As you have indubitably heard (nice vocabulary, right?) if you have taken a lesson with me is the idea of steering with your eyes. That is, your body will naturally follow and move in the direction you are looking. Have you ever been on the sidewalk, walking along and staring at the beautiful models...uhm...necklaces in the store windows? Next thing you know, you started walking off your line and drifting towards that direction. The same thing occurs in skiing. Whenever you look to the right, your body starts to turn to the right subconciously.

Now let's apply this to skiing in the trees. Let's say you are coming down to a large and intimidating 100 year old tree. You obviously want to ski around the tree - it is rather difficult to ski through it at this point in time - maybe in another 200 years. So, to ski around the tree, we are going to look around the tree. That's right - do not stare directly at it. Remember what we just said. You go where you look. So look for the spaces.

Once you get this idea down, tree skiing becomes almost like mogul skiing. You have to pick your line, look ahead, and plan out your turns.

A few things to look out for on tree skiing:
  • Loose brush or inadequate snow cover
  • - The one thing about tree runs is that snow groomers cannot fit in the runs to groom the slopes. There also is rarely man-made snow here. Therefore, due to relying on natural snow and uncertain conditions, you never really know how deep the glade snow is or what is underneath. Look out for rocks, tree branches, large tree branches, and any exposed ground surface. Your skis are made to go on snow, not dirt.
  • Start out on trails with thinner pockets of trees
  • - When first starting to ski glades, start out on ones that are not as thickly forested or not as extreme terrain. It is better to get comfortable on the easier glades before you move onto the ones with very narrow, untracked, powdery trails with 6 foot (2 meter) jumps. Otherwise, you will hate glade skiing forever.
  • Wear a helmet
  • - Since you never know what you may get into, always wear a helmet. This is pretty self-explanatory, but some people will still resist. If you bite an edge on the groomers, you fall and hit the snow. If you bite an edge in the glades, you fall and hit a tree. Be smart, stay smart, wear a helmet.
  • Know where you're going
  • - A lot of times tree runs will not be marked well on a map, or you may get off track due to the lack of a clear cut trail. Always know where you are going and have a general sense of where you are in relation to the major trails around you on the mountain.
  • Use the buddy system
  • - Always ski with a partner in the glades. Stick together. It is a scary feeling to know that your friend is stuck in the woods and you have no idea where they are. Be smart, don't ski apart.

When you get comfortable, glade skiing can be the most fun type of skiing you will ever do. I did my fair share at Vail and Beaver Creek this past January. They have some awesome, awesome runs that I would recommend if you are seeking out the trees. Now get out there and do it (with my picture as inspiration, of course).

A beautiful snowy mist at Vail, Colorado.  Picture by David Barton.