Can't ski the wood for the trees?

Being able to ski trees opens a door to a magical environment. On a stormy day there's nothing better than heading into the woods — the wind drops, there's silence all around and you're immersed in another world. But you need a few pointers if you don't want to end up looking like a sniper because your helmet is so full of shrubbery.
 
In tree skiing you must be reactive and have the ability to change direction without even thinking about it. But we all need to start somewhere, so if you're not feeling all that confident, find a spot that has an easy gradient, with big gaps between the trees. Use this to practise linking turns in powder before going deeper into uncharted territory.
 
When skiing powder in the trees, many of the rules of skiing soft snow apply, but tactics and decision-making must be your main focus — they’re even more important than technique. And remember, if all else fails and you’re heading for a tree you can always just sit down to avoid a collision.
 
TACTICS
Fast decision-making and a clear focus are the backbone to having a great run in the trees. Use the following tactics to help keep everything simple and make this an enjoyable experience:
 
   -Plan ahead before making a run. As with skiing moguls, try to mentalise the first two or three turns before setting off. One of the hardest parts of skiing trees is dealing with the pressure to make quick decisions on the move, so if you’ve planned the first three turns it’s easier for you to be tactically smart.
 
   -Keep your speed well under control so you can maintain a constant pace that makes you feel comfortable. If you ski too fast, you’ll be forced into concentrating on shedding speed rather than making good decisions. If you make more of a steering angle at the end of the turn, this will make a huge difference to your speed. Curbing your speed is much easier in powder where the resistance of the snow will help you.
 
   -If you’re not confident about speed control, try to break the run down into shorter sections. Link five to six turns together before stopping, having a rest, and then breaking into another run.
 
   -Keep an eye on the gaps and possible pathways available. If you focus on the trees you’ll be drawn to them and the run will lose its flow. With practice you should be able to maintain longer descents and move beyond a point where you have to think through every turn. It should be instinctive — ‘think’ a turn and it happens.
 
IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING...
If you find you can’t respond rapidly enough to the terrain, it’s worth having a look at your powder technique. Here are some simple changes you can make:
 
   -When starting the turn be confident in allowing your body to topple over and move into the new direction. As you topple over, positively steer your feet and skis across the hill. It should feel as if your feet and skis are swinging underneath your upper body.
 
   -Make sure you distribute the pressure equally between both skis as this will stop you from sinking too far with the outer ski and losing your balance.
 
   -Use your pole plant to help maintain a rhythm and to keep you balanced while linking the turns.
 
As your confidence increases you will start to be more aware of how your body works while it’s in motion. It should feel relaxed but alert, playful, and ready to move. Now you’ve arrived, and the magic forest is your playground. But, having read this article thus far, don’t dive straight into the nearest wooded area. Staying safe is vital. Here are some essential tips.
 
SKI WITH A BUDDY
While it’s magical to ski among the trees, there’s plenty of potential for accidents. So don’t ski alone. If you ski with a buddy there’s someone on the spot to help get you out of danger or call for assistance.  
 
WEAR A HELMET
Wearing a helmet and goggles is a necessity while skiing in the trees. It’s also worth considering taking your hands out of your pole straps to avoid having your arm yanked when your poles are grabbed by branches, which will happen, especially when the trees are tightly packed, as is the case in many European resorts.
 
CHECK THE BASE
Make sure there’s a good base underfoot before heading for the trees. At the start of the season when early winter storms kick in, skiers will often bound into the forest for shelter and do some powder skiing. But it can be dangerous if there’s not enough base. Thick roots and short stumps are known for grabbing and tripping fast-moving skiers. Worse, if your ski passes under a root, your bindings won’t necessarily release and you could have a nasty fall.
 
AVOID TREE WELLS
Tree wells sound innocuous, but should be avoided at all costs. If you fall head first into a tree well or deep, loose snow, it can be very risky as there’s a chance you could be trapped under the snow and suffocate. This accounts for 20 per cent of off -piste fatalities in North America. Ski close to your buddy and maintain contact at all times, so you can help each other out of trouble fast.
 
BE AVALANCHE AWARE
It’s easy to assume that once you’re deep into the trees you’re safe from avalanche danger. This is not so, and if the area where you are skiing is designated off -piste you need to treat it with as much respect as you would on any backcountry trip.
 
IS IT LEGAL?
This is not a safety issue, of course, but few of us want to feel the financial pain of a fine when we’re on the slopes. In Switzerland, some areas have been designated ‘tranquillity zones’. Unless a ski touring route, piste or snowshoeing trail passes through these zones, they are out of bounds with infringement punishable by a fine of up to 500CHF (£400) and the loss of your lift pass. Generally, ski areas rope off  sensitive areas to protect saplings and fauna, so these boundaries should be respected.
 
More of these top tips from Mark Jones ICE Trainer are published monthly in the Ski + Board magazine 


Posted: 15/01/2018