1June 2021

Q&A: How can I get better at, and learn to love, tree skiing?

I know.

Not everyone is at the stage of shouting to anyone who will listen that skiing deep turns in the trees is a near-religious-level-fun experience, and more of it is always better.

That might just be me.

I remember not loving it, at first. Feeling frustrated, a little overwhelmed, and wishing we could just get back into the open already where I could actually do this thing.

And we know heli-skiers and soon-to-be-heli-skiers dream of the big, open slopes – and you SHOULD. It’s incredible.

But in B.C. we have some of the best deep trees on the planet, and we get out there in all kinds of weather, so the reality is….. some tree skiing is almost always on the menu.

It’s not a silver medal to the alpine’s gold. It’s just a different shade of gold.

If you’re still learning to love it, or still finding the flow, here’s our best advice:

burned out forest heli-ski run

Get your head in the game

Remember: the trees don’t move. They’re obstacles you need to navigate, yes, but you manage other skiers on the slope inbounds (and they DO move, erratically at times) just fine without thinking ‘Eek. I don’t know if I can do this‘.

This is the ‘I promise you’ve done harder things’ argument. Let it sink in.

The other piece is just to embrace the learning phase, and let go of it needing to feel exactly the same. The rhythm of your turns will be dictated by openings, not necessarily the same timing you’d have on a groomer. It’s all good. As with many things in life, you usually have to get awkward before you get good.

Once you have the right attitude, you can….


Rely on your technique

The visual field may feel shortened, busy and variable. It is. So. You need to adapt your focus. Strong tree skiers know to keep their eyes on the next opening, NOT on the trees themselves.

Your body will go where your eyes are pointed. Focus on where you want to go next, and it’ll happen.

While you work on training that discipline with your eyes (the urge to look at the trees can be strong), don’t lose your fundamentals. Finish your turns so you control your speed. Pole plant every turn to help your movements stay deliberate. Stop and take a pause when you need to regroup.

Tree skiing can feel a little loose and rowdy as you’re getting the hang of it, but your effort should always be in the direction of reining yourself back and staying centered, in control and over your feet.

We see some people get too hurried or disorganized, forgetting the basics and root body position, which can snowball (yep, had to) the feeling of overwhelm.

Whether you’re on one plank or two, same technique as an open slope. Focusing on keeping the whole package in check makes managing the variation more and more fun.

heli ski guide charges through deep turns in bc glades

And when you’re heading into the next pitch of trees, remember….


Most people never ski snow this good

The shelter that the trees provide means even on windy days, where the alpine snow has been pressed, the turns in the glades are still PERFECT.

If you ask Jeff where he’s had his deepest, most blower, most perfect powder skiing? There is no hesitation. In the trees, of course.

It also makes heli-skiing happen on days when the light is so flat that skiing in the alpine is what we call ‘the nausea box’, or when the sky is low or it’s snowing and we can’t land up high. In many places in the world, it’s blue sky or bust. In B.C. we can slay the glades all day while folks are playing cards in Alaska.

Skier's pole basket is seen looking up through a wave of powder in the trees

A great attitude, some new technique, some old technique, and some perspective. All of it helps us give thanks to Ullr for the blessing that is powder snow, and have more fun and confidence skiing in the trees.

If there’s no tree skiing where you call home, we hope you’re inspired to embrace the challenge and the privilege if you come fly with us.

If you already get after the glades, or are at least tree-curious, stick with it. It’ll be great training for heli-skiing, and hey, a ‘best of the backcountry’ highlight reel doesn’t get made without it.



There’s more I could say that goes for terrain in or out of the trees: check out 4 Ways to Charge With More Flow next.







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