Powderhorn Tree Skiing
Powderhorn Tree Skiing 101
Four days after the most recent late February storm, in a winter filled with recent storms, a friend and I were skiing Powderkeg.
The coverage was fantastic. Despite the springlike temperatures, the deep base was holding up well, with nary a rock or twig poking through. Part way down, we stopped to catch our breath and laugh together before taking off on more quick mogul turns.
Then we looked in the trees.
One hard left later, and a really good ski day turned into one of the best days of the season.
Trees can do that. They’re magical.
A Special Realm
I grew up skiing Powderhorn, and as a child my forays into the forest tended to be, as they are for most kids, brief jaunts into the trees alongside a groomed run.
Kids love this stuff, partially because with their small bodies and short skis they can enter into realm all their own (where adults fear to bonk their heads) and let their imaginations roam.
As an adult, I still feel this way.
Skiing into the forest, you enter a new world.
On sunny days, it’s a land of diffuse light, dappling the snow in elegant patterns. On cloudy or storm days, the woods are a haven offering better visibility and improved perspective.
But the most magical part of skiing the trees? The snow.
Because fewer people ski the glades, the snow is often softer, deeper and lasts longer.
Tree Skiing 101
If you’re ready to start skiing the trees, here are some tips.
The first, from Kate Belknap of the Powderhorn Ski and Snowboard Center, is don’t look at the trees, or as she explains, “if you look at it, you will hit it.”
Our bodies follow our eyes, so train your eyes on the big, open spaces between the trees.
Next, find a good place to practice.
For beginning tree skiers with intermediate to advanced skills, Kate recommends Showdown Trees, a little slice of trees between Showdown and Powderkeg.
Ski right along the edge, weaving into the trees and back out onto the run, or dive into the middle where you’ll find an open line.
Kate describes these trees as “short, open and not intimidating.” Just be aware of other skiers and riders on the runs, so you don’t cause a collision when you come out of the trees.
Another tip is to stay focused and look ahead.
One of the things people love about glade skiing is that you pick your line and commit. The trees aren’t moving, so you must.
This doesn’t mean you have to ski the trees like slalom gates, but you’ll have more fun, and feel more at ease, if you look for a chain of consecutive white spaces and aim for them.
It’s also important to pick the right place and time for glade skiing.
Powderhorn has done a tremendous job of thinning popular glades and creating new tree skiing opportunities. On the mountain, you’ll find everything from wide open aspen glades to forests of steep, tight firs.
Low-angle, widely space aspen glades are, in my opinion, the most forgiving.
The low-angle of the mountain helps you control your speed, while the wide spacing gives you plenty of options. Also, aspens don’t have myriad pesky branches to snag you as you go by or force your turns wider.
Right now, my favorite glades meeting these criteria are between Powderkeg and Yoo Hoo.
For a combination of fir and aspen, check out Racer’s Trees between Racer’s Edge and Showdown.
Over on the West End, you’ll find harder, steeper terrain with tighter glades, and many options for exploration.
Mad Dog Glade is a steep line through old-growth aspen. The tree canopy there is absolutely gorgeous, just be aware of the creek near the bottom.
Once you’ve chosen your place, you must choose your time.
Early season in the trees can be rough with the snow at low tide. Hidden obstacles such as downed trees, stumps, branches, roots and rocks can grab you before you know it.
Stick to named glades which have had more clearing and summer maintenance until the snow gets deep.
And always be alert as you ski, looking ahead for branches and stumps.
A few years ago, when my kids were racing for Powderhorn Racing Club, a regional final was held here.
The race was on hold because of too much new snow (that’s a good problem to have!) and visitors from across Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico were having the times of their lives in the Powderhorn glades.
“I’ve never been here before,” crowed a coach from Winter Park as he swung into the lift line.
“But I’ll be back, this tree skiing is amazing.”
We feel that way after every Powderhorn day.
While we hope these tips will pique your interest in exploring the resort’s famous glades, another great way to start tree skiing is with a lesson from the Powderhorn Ski and Snowboard Center.
Kate Belknap recommends at least a 2-hour private lesson to get started (or, for more bang for your buck, book a full-day private and never feel rushed). Tell the desk staff that you want to ski trees and they’ll take it from there.