Tree-skiing requires you to pull together the skills you've picked up in powder and bumps, and it tests them in spades. Into the trees, after all, is where you go to find fluff when the rest of the mountain has long since been cut up. And like the bumps, woods present you with an obstacle course.
Even more so than in deep snow or moguls, what you focus your eyes on becomes critical in the woods. Look at the spaces between the trees—the exits—where you hope to be traveling. "Don't stare at what you don't want to hit," says Reichhelm matter-of-factly. Other important dos and don'ts: Never enter the trees
alone, avoid riding too close to the wells around the bases of trunks, and if you do get sucked into one, release your boots from your bindings immediately. Don't be tempted to wriggle out while you're still locked in. Your gyrations can cave in the tree well, which might be quite deep, and your face and thus your air passages could get buried in snow. It's
not a fun way to go.
Like the bumps, the trees require you to keep your feet closer together. Why? You want to be ready to make quick cuts when, say, one of those exits turns out to be an entrance into a world of hurt in the form of a grouchy old spruce. So before diving headlong into the thick of the woods, White suggests building confidence: "Start with open tree runs, and
work on the margins so that you can bail out to the groomed if necessary." Above all, relax—advice to heed in all downhill endeavors. "You need to turn quickly, and a rigid skier can't do that," he says. His secret? He sings to himself. Should you follow suit, we can't be responsible for the reception such behavior might elicit from your friends.
"The tree game is mostly psychological," says Reichhelm. You must believe you can do it. Of course, it's also crucial to move your arms in tight to avoid bashing branches. You'll struggle unless you can make quick changes in your speed and your choice of a line, which means being able to stop on a dime. "You can slide your turns a bit more in powder to
slow down," Reichhelm says. "You can also control speed by getting lower to increase the drag of the snow on your body. It lets you continue pointing downhill without building up too much speed." And if it's gotten icy in those woods? Time to call it a day.
Riding in the trees requires a "high-beam, low-beam" approach, Palmer says. "You need to pay attention to your line as far ahead as you can see, but at the same time know where you are." And because those elegant, long-radius turns that are the hallmark of snowboarding can suddenly become extremely short-radius turns—or full stops—you've got
to have absolute faith in your control. It's something best polished on groomed runs, Palmer says. He suggests linking ten turns while making sure that you're going the same speed on the tenth turn as you were on the first. With practice and a little luck, you'll soon be ripping through the tightest of trees without getting a mouthful of bark.
Tim Etchells has been skiing for 40 years and he loves everything about it—except for those pesky bumps.