Talking Points

How to Snowboard in the Trees

Sylvain Bourbousson prepares to drop into some dense trees in Les Crosets. Photo: Matt Georges

If the snow is soft and deep, riding in the trees is one of the best times you can have on your snowboard and is a great alternative to higher-altitude alpine snowboarding on bad weather days (and infinitely better than bumming around in your pants all day).

The snow in between the trees stays untracked for longer, is much less likely to slide, and allows you to get away from the crowds.

That said, here are a few tips to think about before you go plunging into the woods with your snowboard…

Assess Snow Depth

Gigi Rüf is no stranger to the deep stuff.

One of the first things to think about before you head into a set of trees for the first time is depth of snow. Early season tree-riding can be particularly dangerous if felled trees and rocks lie just below the surface.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re shredding before the 1st of January, be sure to ride lightly, with more weight on your back-foot to reduce the risk of hooking your nose, and steer clear of what appear to be random lumps of ‘snow’ that you’ll soon find aren’t as deep or as soft as you think…

Determine Pitch and Tree Density

You would not want to get lost in those set of trees. Sebi Geiger shreds his home turf at Silvretta Montafon. Photo: Christoph Schöch.

Because trees mask the topography of the ground that they lie on, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the terrain will be like inside a given cluster.

Knowing the areas either side the trees in question will give you a good indicator of the overall pitch. A steeper slope will help your board to float more easily above any powder, but will require quicker reactions and turns, which takes more skill. Flatter pitches will be mellower when it comes to turning but will force you to make more calculated terrain and speed decisions so you don’t end up stuck in the flats.

Tree density is another thing to suss out, with super-tight trees requiring better timing and coordination. Some resorts feature special in-bounds ‘gladed’ runs, where a number of trees have been selectively plucked from the forest, making everything easier to ride.

Focus on the Gaps Between Trees

Don’t let those tree trunks pull you towards them focus on the gaps and you’ll be sweet. Victr Daviet weaves through the trees. Photo: Jerome Tanon

Once you’re in the trees, one of the biggest tips we can give when working on your technique and finding your rhythm is to focus on the gaps between trees rather than the trunks themselves. As a general rule of thumb, where you look is where you’ll ride to, so focusing on the spaces between trees will help with planning subsequent turns in advance. If the snow is deep, try to keep moving and only stop in spots where it will be easy to get going again.

Hitting trees plain sucks. You can be the biggest hippy tree-hugger in the world but as you’ll discover (if you haven’t already), they sure as hell won’t hug you back. Try to avoid the temptation to reach out for branches as you ride past them because 9.5 times out of 10 they’re more solid than you expect.

Know Where Your Exit Point Will Be

Pillows for days! Antti Autti cruises the trees in Tamok. Photo: Rafi Hanafi.

It’s always a good idea to know where you’re going to be when you eventually pop out (no doubt grinning from ear to ear) from a particular set of trees. Whether that may be another piste, or a familiar spot in the backcountry, you should have a solid idea of where you’re trying to get to rather than just diving into the woods blind.

There’s nothing worse than getting so into your run that you end up waaay down from where you needed to be – often resulting in a long hike out, or at best, an unplanned bus ride back into town.

Riding with someone who already knows the area is a huge bonus if you’re unfamiliar with the terrain – just be sure they’re actually slightly less clueless than you are!

If the Snow is Deep, be Aware of the Dangers of Tree Wells and Never Ride Alone

Riding with a buddy is always better than riding alone, and in the trees, it could save your life. Victor Daviet and Thomas Delfino. Photo: Matt Georges

If you’re lucky enough to have scored some decent powder on your trip and you know that there has been a good amount of snow earlier in the season, it’s important to be clued-up on the dangers of tree wells.

Tree wells most commonly form around evergreen coniferous trees that hold their leaves all year round, and are essentially areas around the base of the trunk where the snow can be deceptively thick, but much less densely packed.

Losing control and falling head-first into this lightly packed snow around the trees

Keep Track of your Position Using Landmarks

Look for recognisable clearings and other natural features as reference points as you cruise. Eero Ettala floats a Method in Japan. Photo: Cole Barash

Try to identify landmarks as you ride through a set of trees so that if you return to that zone again you’ll be able to find your way.

Small cliff bands, valleys and clearings in the trees can all be used as reference points as you cruise.

Go Fast!

Antti Autti blasting through an open patch of trees in Hakkaisan, Japan. Photo: Teemu Lahtinen

If you’ve ever watched the likes of Travis Rice, Bryan Iguchi or any other freerider worth their mettle pick their way through the trees, you’ll notice one thing in common – they all ride fast, with great flow and very few pauses.

While few of us will ever log quite as many hours in the trees as the guys we look up to, we can still aspire to ride how they do. By building up your confidence and tree-riding technique gradually run by run, you’ll be logging footage like this in no time.


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