How to Snowboard Through Trees

Fresh tracks, a connection with nature, and an unmatched snowboarding experience are some of the magic and allure to snowboarding through the woods.

Curated expert Luke Sussdorf launching a jump in powder in the forest

Snowboarding at Jay Peak, VT. Photo courtesy of Curated expert Luke Sussdorf

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Beams of light shoot through the snow-covered tree tops and illuminate the pure white underneath. Fresh tracks, a connection with nature, and an unmatched snowboarding experience are some of the magic and allure to snowboarding through the woods. Glades, woods, or trees, whatever you call them, there are some things you must know before venturing off the trails.

This is a short how-to guide to help you when snowboarding through the trees. In this quick guide, I will explain the key points of getting into and out of the woods, skills needed to navigate through, and key safety points of snowboarding through the trees. This article will focus on riding through the trees within bounds at a resort and touch on how to bring those skills into the backcountry.

First thing to remember is, while we know snowboarding can be inherently dangerous, riding through the trees can be extremely dangerous. There are many obstacles besides the actual trees to watch out for. The terrain is not groomed, and resorts do not make snow on these trails, like on cleared trails. This means the snow conditions can vary greatly on a tree run.

The most important safety point is to never ride the trees alone, and it's recommended to ride with 3 or more in your group. You should have a skill level of an intermediate rider or above before tackling the trees. Speed control, edge control and turning skills should all be mastered before entering the woods. You should be able to read the snow conditions and control the board to travel directly where you want to go and avoid potential hazards or dangerous areas. This is the ability to pick a “line” — a specific lane of travel with predetermined turns and end point. Lastly, if you are new to riding in the glades please go with more experienced friends or companions.

Curated expert Michael Biasuzzi and his friend ready to snowboard in a forest in a blizzard

Photo by Michael Biasuzzi

In the last few years many ski resorts have been dedicating resources to these types of trails. This means more accessible areas for guests to enjoy. The runs are often marked with trail signs and out of boundary markers, which create a safer snowboarding experience. The marked woods trails are a great way to get started snowboarding in the trees and are the best for beginners. These trails are marked on the resort’s trail guides and at the trailhead, and will be rated for difficulty. When the snow coverage is deep enough, the resort's ski patrol will open the trails. These marked trails are often checked on a daily basis like the rest of the trails, which can provide a safer experience.

Now that your group has scouted the resort and found what trail or trails you’re planning to shred, it’s time to load the lift!

Once you reach the trailhead, take a moment for the entire party to gather before entering. With marked trails, these openings are generally wide and easy to get into. You’ll want to check out the terrain for thin patches of snow and underlying debris, such as fallen sticks, branches, or rocks. You will also want to check if other skiers and riders have been on the trail creating moguls or natural turning lines. To me, the most important thing about learning to snowboard through the trees is to be patient. You might not have the space, visibility, or line to rip down the run or to rail big carving turns like on groomers and more open terrain.

After you have surveyed the top of the terrain, it’s time to pick your line (or turns) and go get it. I like to plan 3 or 4 turns and my stopping area before taking off. I also always try to stop facing downhill on a knoll or high point. This will allow you the ability to always see what is ahead of you on the trail and have the luxury to keep gliding downhill and not get stuck on a flat. Remember to point the board where you want to go and to look where you want to go. Just like learning to ride any terrain, your body will follow where your head and eyes are looking. These short turns will also help you maintain your speed, which is critical to avoiding obstacles. If you’re staring at the trees, you will find yourself heading right for one.

Looking down the slope in a forest

Photo by Michael Biasuzzi

Now that you’re in the woods, remember you are snowboarding with others and in a possibly more dangerous area. You will ideally want to be in sight of each other or to plan stopping points for everyone to meet up. This will ensure the entire group makes it through the run and no one is left behind. With many marked tree runs on a resort, the cut and designated trails can often be visible through the trees. It’s important to remember you cannot always take a turn and bail out of the woods onto a designated trail.

Many resorts have snow making equipment throughout the resort and the pipes can be extremely dangerous for riders and employees. There can also be more water hazards as the snowmaking crew often utilizes the natural resources on the mountain. This can make exiting the trees a little bit tricky.

A snowboard line through the trees

Photo by Michael Biasuzzi

As you approach the end of the run you’ll want to slow down and gather everyone before heading back onto the designed wide-open trails. There are a few things to remember when exiting; you are merging back onto the trail, the uphill skier coming down has the right of way, and you should know what trail you are emerging back onto. This will help you locate the closest or desired lift and keep you having fun.

Just like you’ve been doing, take your time and pick your specific exit line, then slowly go towards the opening and know which way the fall line is headed. This ensures you know which way is down and can get back to the base area. Controlling speed is critical here, as the potential for a collision is high. Always look uphill before exiting the woods, and wait for other skiers and snowboards to clear the trail you are merging onto.

Once you have safely exited the woods and are back on the trail, head down a short distance to clear the exit for others in your group to escape the trees. Wait for the party to gather before heading back down. If there are instances where you get separated on the slopes for any reason, it is a great idea to discuss predetermined meeting locations and times. For example, if you are riding with a large group, 7 or more people, it’s a good idea to plan on meeting back at specific lifts after each run. This will keep the group shredding together all day long, without waiting long periods for group members at multiple skill levels.

Looking up the slope at a line through the snow made by a snowboarder

Photo by Michael Biasuzzi

There you have it, a quick simple guide to get into snowboarding through the trees. Before venturing into new terrain, never go alone; if possible, go with more experienced riders and or skiers. Make sure your skills are up to snuff, and a great way to test them is to diversify the trails you are already riding. Always look where you want to go, not at what is in front of you. Take it slow at first and safety should be first on your mind, fun is second. Snowboarding through the trees is a unique and magical experience. Each forest and tree run has its own challenges and charms, which are sure to provide thrilling lifelong memories.

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Written By
Born and raised in Vermont, winter sports have been my lifelong passion. In high school my friends would spend our weekends at Statton, Pico, Killington, or Jay Peak searching for untouched snow or working for a free pass. During the week you could find us in the backyard or hiking out into the wild...

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