Tips for Riding: How to Snowboard in the Trees and Ride the Glades

Published on 07/18/2023 · 10 min readLooking to snowboard in the trees a bit more but not quite sure how? Snowboarding Expert Gaelen Mast outlines all you'll need to know to ride the trees in this guide.
Gaelen Mast, Snowboarding Expert
By Snowboarding Expert Gaelen Mast

Photo by Cascade Creatives

Despite many of my friends telling me “those runs” were only good on skis, learning to ride in the trees was the single best decision I’ve made in snowboarding. Nothing quite matches the feeling of weaving through trees, picking your own lines, and exploring the woods on your snowboard! It opens up so much more available terrain and is my favorite place to be on a powder day! From in-resort to sidecountry to off piste to full-on backcountry, the urge to chase deep powder through the trees eventually becomes undeniable; the urge to go beast mode in the pow irresistible. Mountain riders everywhere, if you find yourself craving that surfy feel, you came to the right place!

While many people do see skiing as the easiest method to navigate tight tree runs, there’s no reason why you can’t also ride your snowboard on these same trails. If I can do it, so can you! Throughout this article, I’ll give you some of my best tips on how to shred tree runs (often referred to as glades), covering everything from the optimal snowboard set-up to some basic rules every glades rider should know to picking your first tree run and conquering it with confidence!

A Word of Caution

Before we really dive in here, I should tell you that glades are dangerous. While snowboarding as a whole is dangerous, riding in the woods increases the danger level as you are weaving in and out of very hard objects that will not move if you run into them (aka trees). On top of this, glades are also ungroomed, and therefore conditions can be unpredictable and choppy. I don’t say this to discourage you as anyone is capable of riding glades with enough practice. But before you embark on your first woods run, take the time to be honest with yourself about your snowboarding skills, and see if you’re ready.

If you’re unsure of your abilities, ask yourself these three questions: 1. Can I consistently and predictably control my board both toeside and heelside? 2. Am I comfortable riding ungroomed and on uneven terrain? 3. Can I look ahead to where I’m riding and plan my actions accordingly?

If you answered yes to all three of these, you’re ready for your first glade! If not, there’s no shame in working the basics on the groomers. The woods aren’t going anywhere! Play it safe; ride another day!

The Optimal Setup for the Trees

Photo by Flystock

I want to preface this section by saying you do NOT need to have a perfect setup to succeed in the trees. From beginner to intermediate and expert, riders of all skill levels on any variation of camber profile or rocker profile can shred trees—as long as you have the control and precision that is necessary. When I was a kid learning to ride glades, I was rocking a soft flexing freestyle board that was way too long for me (pretty much the opposite of what you want), and I turned out alright! Don’t feel the need to go out and buy a whole new setup just to shred in the woods. But if you’re a huge gear nerd like I am or are just curious and looking for ideas, then you’ll appreciate this section.

The Board

The two most important factors for a glades snowboard are nimbleness and floatability. A nimble board is important because you need the ability to take quick, tight turns as you weave through the woods, so be sure to look at the flex rating. A board with pop and float is important because nine times out of ten, there’s going to be powder in the woods, and without a board that can float through it, you’re just going to sink and get stuck. The best boards to achieve these both are going to be powder boards or freeride snowboards. These types of boards often feature a directional shape and a setback stance, with a rocker in the nose to help them float.

The best snowboard for glades, in my opinion, is a volume-shifted powder snowboard. These are snowboards that are wider than your average board and meant to be ridden shorter than usual. A shorter board with a wider waist width is going to plow through deep snow without a problem while also being small enough to squeeze into even the smallest tree lines. Some of my personal favorites include the Lib Tech Orca, Ride Warpig, and Rossignol XV Sushi. A directional twin shape or twin board can definitely work too if you want the option to ride switch. Whether you're on a freeride snowboard, a playful true twin, or an all-mountain snowboard, stability and versatility will be huge. You don't need a stacked board quiver, you simply need a durable deck under your feet that you feel confident on.

Bindings and Boots

While the board is the most important piece of gear, stiffness of bindings and boots do play a role in how your setup will feel. The stiffer flexing the bindings and boots, the better response time and control you’ll have. You don’t have to go out and get the most stiff flexing boots and bindings you can find, but some that aren’t super soft flexing offer better control. Personally, I ride the Vans Aura OG boots and Union Flite Pro bindings and have no problem with response time in the trees despite those both being medium flex, all-mountain pieces of gear.

How to Succeed in the Woods

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev

Do NOT Ride Closed Glades

Now I don’t say this as an avid rule follower; I say this as someone who’s poached closed glades before and always regretted it. Ski patrol closes trails when they deem them unsafe for the public. If they close a green circle trail that looks fine to you as an advanced rider, they’ve closed it because it’s no longer suitable for green circle riders. When they close a glade, this means it is not suitable for people who are skilled enough to be in the trees, aka experienced riders. Typically a glade is closed because there simply isn’t enough snow base, and running a closed trail is just asking to scratch the heck out of your board on the rocks and sticks lurking right underneath the snow—or worse! Having done this myself, it is the best way to have a bad time in the woods! Moral of the story: don't ignore the posted signs.

Practice Makes Perfect

As mentioned above, glades are generally more advanced terrain and require more advanced skills on your board. You should have complete control of your board in any situation. Some other important questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Can you make tight turns on a dime even at high speeds?
  2. Are you comfortable riding switch?
  3. Can you maintain precise edge hold no matter the conditions?

If you feel less than totally confident with any of these skills, it is crucial that you practice each of these on wide-open groomers where the risk is low. The basics of riding tree runs do not get to be skipped over, especially since these days there is easy access to tutorials. Find areas of the resort with less traffic and try slopes of similar grade with moguls or bumps to navigate through. This will be a great way to simulate dodging the hazards of gladed terrain.

Ride With Friends

Since the woods are inherently more dangerous, always have a buddy or two that you venture with, if nothing else, for the sake of confidence. Sometimes falling in the woods means you get stuck in a pile of powder and spend ten minutes trying to figure out how to get yourself out. Deep powder days are best spent with good buddies, but having someone who can give you a hand is always a plus!

Riding with friends can also prove valuable should you encounter a tree well because they can pose a very serious threat to a rider's safety. Tree wells are essentially hollow pits at the base of a tree that a rider can get trapped in if they ride too close to the tree trunk. It is important to be aware of the dangers of tree wells and exercise caution. Stay within earshot of one another and check over your shoulder often to maintain visibility and make sure your homies are still on their feet!

Plan Your Attack

Half of the battle of snowboarding is anticipating your next move. On a wide-open groomer run, it’s not too difficult as there’s plenty of space to work with, and you can ride all over the place. However, in the woods, every carve counts! It’s essential to look ahead when riding in the trees to plan your path. You need to anticipate how much speed to carry through each turn, how quickly you can turn to avoid a tree or other obstacle, and even when you’ll have space to slow down. Identify your exit point ahead of time and communicate that with your boarder buddies. Oftentimes when riding a glade for the first time, I like to go quite slow through it and even stop periodically to scout out the best route to take for the next several hundred feet of trail. While this might not feel the most exciting, it lets you get a good feel for the terrain so you can rip through it faster with confidence on your second go!

Wear a Helmet

Most riders either always wear a helmet or never wear one at all. Whatever your personal choice is, there are considerably more opportunities to take an unexpected header when riding trees. And, if the danger of colliding with the entire base of the tree isn't enough of a concern, don't forget all of the low-hanging branches you'll have to navigate through. On your rides in this terrain, especially as you learn to pick up speed on your runs, having a reliable helmet is a no-brainer!

Your First Glade

Photo by Andrew Nevins

Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to pick out your first glade for the next time you hit the mountain. I’d highly recommend sticking to marked glades for the first time. While you will likely see plenty of sections of unmarked woods with tracks leading into them, this isn’t great if you’re new to snowboarding in the trees because there’s no telling what you might be in store for. I’ve had to hike out of the woods plenty of times doing this. Instead, look for trail signs that clearly indicate a stretch of woods that is designated as a glade. Depending on the mountain, some glades will even have difficulty ratings on them, and it’s obviously best to go with the lower-rated ones at first.

Look for trails that are on mellow grade (not steep), have a good amount of space between trees, and ample coverage (no exposed rocks or sticks). Additionally, If you can find a glade that many people have already gone through, you can follow their tracks and get a feel for how to navigate the woods without having to trailblaze your first time!

Riding in the woods opens up a whole new world of snowboarding and is something everyone should try. Now that you’re armed with the know-how, it’s time to get out there and give it a try! If you’re still unsure of yourself, feel free to talk to a Snowboarding Expert at Curated, we can give you free personalized advice on what sort of snowboard gear is best for you to conquer the woods and beyond and get you hyped up for your next snow-filled adventure!

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