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How to Ride Trees Without Killing Yourself


So pretty, so scary.

Words: Aston Reynolds

The forest is a scary place. It’s dark, dense, and you can’t see more than a hundred feet in any direction.

It’s even more confusing on a snowboard.

And no less dangerous.

Gallows humor at winter resorts means talking about what happens in the trees. And the bars, but that’s a different story. To clear the trees at old Swiss resorts they would cut a few down in the fall and wait for spring to chop the ones with blood on them.

Like all sports, snowboarding is a mental game. That’s especially true in the trees.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 3.51.23 PM

Too slow.

Control thy fear

The only way to control your fear at first is to go slow. But not too slow because it’s easy to get stuck when you fall down in the trees. Then there are these things called tree wells. People will tell you to stay calm if you fall into one. Then the next thing you read is about some guy who fell into a tree well and suffocated.

Scared yet? You should be. The trees are scary.

So how do people go fast in the trees without getting Bonoed?

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 3.55.11 PMPick a line, any line. 

Pick your line

Look as far ahead as you can.

The trick is to know exactly how far you can go without thinking about what’s right in front of you. Focus on the farthest point you can see that you know you can get to. The second step is to trust your brain to process everything in your peripheral vision.

You need focus and concentration to ski or ride fast through the trees without getting jacked. The second you focus on that scary tree in your periphery, that’s when it reaches out and breaks you.


What if you freak?

Everything’s going well. You’re looking through the trees, not at them. Going fast, feeling good. And then something happens in your brain. The gravity of the situation hits you like an angry pro-ho who settled for you last night and woke up with buyer’s remorse. Fear is the enemy of concentration and focus. Despite our best efforts, snowboarders get jacked when fear strikes.

What to do when fear strikes?

Fear in the trees is just like normal fear. It’s caused by having to make a decision, in this case really fast, and not knowing what to do. Should you throw the brakes on and hope for the best? Should you stay the course and hope for the best? Hard to say. I’m not there. But there are tricks for slowing down quickly in the trees.

The first is to just run into one. If you’re not going that fast you’ll probably just bounce off and be alright.

The second thing you can do is jump up right before you hit the tree and point the bottom of your board at the trees. I’ve never seen skiers do this, but I assume it’s possible. You’ll either hit the tree square and absorb the impact with your knees, or you’ll bounce off the side and get a face full of snow.

There’s fast and then there’s fassst

There’s a big difference between going fast enough to have fun and going so fassst you can’t afford to make a mistake without serious consequences. Know your limits. Pick your line. Don’t freak out. Don’t go fast enough to hurt yourself if you do freak out and end up hitting a tree.

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Comments (25)

  1. dont forget to wipe after you finish pooping

  2. This is a very relevant article. Tree riding is serious shit if you live in the NW. If you’re riding aspens you can still get broke off but you might not go into a tree well as they don’t hold snow the same as an evergreen. Riding trees is a mental game and you have to be on it. Some local skier died in a tree well last week at Crystal Mt. WA. The best way to avoid this is to stay away from tree wells whilst riding trees. Make sense? Dont go head first into a tree well and ride with a few bros. A helmet never hurt either. GoPro optional. Deep snow immersion only takes a few inches and about 5 minutes.

    • haha…a few inches and about 5 minutes…haha

    • Ummmm your advice to “stay away from tree wells whilst riding trees” and “dont go head first into a tree well” is silly. You know people could keep from dying in car wrecks if they would just stay away from other cars and hazards on the road…. We should pry just never ride in the trees or drive a car I guess

      Most people who end up in tree wells are good riders. I even saw a video recently where a pro shred ended up in a tree well, but was OK cause his crew pulled him out.

      Now any pro/good rider will occasionally have a wreck where they are tumbling completely out of control (a lot of the time these kinda wrecks only happen in trees, def not on groomers or in the park) and if this tumble happens to be in the trajectory of a tree and they happen to hit the tree and end up upside down, well you are probably fucked unless someone saves you or you can strong arm it out.

      You must think people end up in tree wells because they can’t maneuver around tress while riding and just run into them. This may be true for a 5-day-a-season rider like yourself, if that is the case just stay on trail, or better yet, just stay home in Seattle.

    • Oh, and how the fuck would a helmet save you from falling in a tree well. Man you really are clueless. “only takes a few inches and about 5 mins” HAHAHAHAAHAH, yeah and people can drown in a quarter inch of water… if they are a complete fucking moron.

  3. I took yobeat’s advice and just ran into a tree cause I wasn’t going THAT FAST… now my parents get to feed me through a tube.

    Fucking brilliant. Someone needs to promote this author and I mean QUICK!

  4. cascadia411: Or you could learn to snowboard.

  5. On point, charge hard, see your line and hold it together. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing your line snaking through the tightest tree line when you look back. Throw whatever you like in the park, if you can’t rip it trough the tree and hit something natural you aren’t seeing the big picture, wait for it, it will come.

  6. That clip is what happens when you look at go pro not the trail .Kid was not even in the woods

  7. one time i was riding in the woods, i came to a toe side stop and was off balance enough so i was going to do a slow motion fall to my knees, i used the tree in front of me to catch myself, a fucking big ass branch came down landed on my head and dropped my ass. fucking widow makers.