If you are a hardened glade skiing veteran, you may know most of this already. But if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about when people talk about skiing or riding in the trees–Zimmermanns has some tips to help you navigate off trail.

For many avid and experienced skiers and snowboarders, the best days out on the hill are when there is enough snow in the woods to hit some of the secret stashes found around New England resorts. But, obviously, it’s not like skiing normal marked trails. So check out these tips to see if you may be interested in trying out tree skiing.

Tips brought to you by a former supervisor and staff trainer of a Vermont ski resort.


For starters, don’t take your finely tuned race skis in the woods. You’ll want some rocker in your life to help keep your tips up when you get in deeper snow. A lot of skiers and riders who find joy in the woods often have two or more set-ups; one for on-trail and a something different for off-trail.

Also bear in mind you are far more likely to damage your equipment on rocks, roots, or logs that may be lurking under a small amount of snow coverage. Similarly, you’re more likely to snag your jacket or snow pants and scratch your goggles via passing branches.


Avenues and alleyways

When you look straight down the fall line when you are in the trees, it can look very menacing and overwhelming. However, when you look at the trees at a 45 degree angle, you can usually find “avenues and alleyways” to navigate through the woods. Think of zig-zagging through the trees versus going straight through them.

Small trees and branches don’t count

If you have two spruce or evergreen trees that are a few feet apart, their branches and needles may cross your path enough that it looks like it is impassable. But, these branches will get out of your way pretty easily. Similarly with small saplings that may be poking through the snow, anything that is the circumference of a nickle or less will usually not cause too much of an issue to ski or snowboard through or over. You’ll want to keep your eyes out for the bigger trees and changes in the terrain as that will cause more problems.

Build a house

Whether you ski or snowboard, you’ll need small branches to get out of your way. It is tempting to close your eyes when your coming close to branches, but if you use your arms to get small obstacles out of the way you’ll be able to keep branches out of your line of sight. What does building a house mean? Think of making the shape of the “A” when you are dancing to the “YMCA.”

Don’t stop on a flat spot

While you are still getting the hang of things in the trees, you’ll want to periodically stop to collect yourself. When you come to a full stop make sure you are positioned in a place where you have some slope available to regain momentum. If you just slid down a steeper decline and come to a stop in a gully, you’ll have a hard time getting back to an area where you can find some pitch again.


Always have a buddy!

Skiing and snowboarding already have inherent risks, but when you are skiing and riding between the trees there is a lot more risk involved. Unmarked glades are not patrolled by ski patrol, and in the event you get injured most mountains make you foot the bill for the cost of your rescue. To some extent, anything can happen once you leave the marked trails, so having a buddy or two with you is far safer than venturing off-trail on your own.

Stay within eyesight of the trail

When you are first dipping into the woods without much experience, it’s not a bad idea to stay within eyesight of the trail. Knowing the trails and intersections of the mountain is always helpful, as well as knowing where the ski area boundaries are. At some point you’ll need to exit the woods back onto a marked trail, so if you lose sight of the trail and are in unfamiliar terrain you might be in trouble. Similarly, if you see a bunch of tracks through the woods that are all exiting in the same area–there is usually good reason for that. It is always disconcerting to face a steep cliff that you weren’t expecting, and cliff drops are best left to the experts.