Riding in the trees is part of the natural learning progression when it comes to all-mountain snowboarding. The glades, as they are known, fill in all that space between and around trails. The gladed areas on the mountain collect the snow that the wind picks up and blows around. The snow stacks up in dense pockets, mounds and pillows making them a haven for powder seekers and folks looking to get off the trail and into a completely different experience.
Glade riding has an ethereal quality. The day light gets refracted, mixing with all sorts shadows and shapes. Everything looks a little more in-focus compared to the open trails and peaks of the mountain. But the trees can be dense and the terrain is not artificially managed like the groomers. Boulders, ledges, stumps, broken roots and clusters of undergrowth are the norm. You need to keep a steady focus on your whereabouts and make sure you know where you are in relation to the nearest trail. I’ve seen people end up in gullies, drainages and even on adjacent mountains by drifting too far over the fall line of the ski area border. There will most likely be lots of people that have already gone in before you so if you get turned around you can simply follow the tracks out.
When you first start to ride the trees you want to pick an area with a relatively low pitch where the trees are spread apart. Most ski areas have at least one or two glades that fit the bill. Ask the patrol guys where they are and they’ll hook you up. You can also practice on moguls where making tight turns will be similar to weaving in and out of trees, without the risk of collision. And obviously, if you’re going to ride the trees you also want to make sure you didn’t forget your helmet and goggles.
As you enter the glade pick a starting point where you see the most open space and approach at a steady, measured pace. Keep in mind the following tips:
- Look far ahead and down the slope to where you want to go. You will be able to visualize your line easier and be much more successful navigating around the trees and other obstacles.
- NEVER look directly at a tree as you make your approach. Looking at a tree will inevitably lead you towards that tree- like a magnet. Trees do not move out of the way, so you will bear the consequences of running into it.
- ALWAYS look into the space between the trees. The empty space is your target and as soon you exit a tight space start looking ahead for the next opening.
- Keep your speed up if you see you are coming out onto a flat area. Getting stuck in powder is exhausting. You will have to unstrap and post-hole your way across the flats or over to the nearest trail. Likewise, falling in deep snow in the flats means you will be doing a lot of wallowing, rolling and contortionist moves to get back up on your board. It is not an experience most people want to repeat very often.
In addition, there are a number of other to things to think about as you head into the trees. First, you have to realize that what you encounter at the top of your line will most likely change dramatically as you descend. The number and density of the trees will vary, ledges will appear, rocks and undergrowth may poke out of the snow occasionally. When starting out, pick a time to ride the trees when the snowpack is high (i.e. after a storm) and all that stuff is good and buried.
Secondly, tree runs are often heavily tracked the first day after a storm. The traffic will create tight burms, or banks of snow that curve around the trees and other aspects. The burms are good as they keep your corner nice and tight when you are zipping around the tree. It’s better to work with them than against them until you get to an open area where you can choose another line to go down. As always, you want to stay centered on your board when banking a corner and going over bumps so that your feet can quickly react to the changing terrain. Do not stand upright or lean back when negotiating challenging terrain. Doing so will put you off balance very fast. If you get into a low angle area with deep snow then you can lean back a bit to keep the nose of your board up so that you float through that section.
Riding in the trees is all about instinct, focus and staying relaxed. You cannot ride the trees if you are tense and nervous. You need keep your knees bent for balance and to react quickly to upcoming changes in the terrain. But your legs should be relaxed so you can extend in an out of your turns without side-slipping and riding the brakes the whole time. Remember the old Zen master’s words, the quieter you become, the more you can hear. So get in there, put on a big grin and play hard- it’s well worth the risk!