A Powder Skier’s Ultimate Adventure in British Columbia’s Kootenays

So What Is Tree Skiing?

Tree skiing, an exhilarating form of backcountry skiing, is for those who crave a more challenging and adventurous experience on the slopes. Unlike alpine skiing, which takes place above treeline, and caters to less experienced skiers riding gentler blue runs, tree skiing offers a captivating alternative for advanced and expert skiers.
“It’s skiing in the forest,” says Judson Wright, an ACMG ski guide for White Grizzly Cat Skiing with over twenty years of experience. “But what is unique about here is that our trees are ideally suited for skiing, meaning we’re skiing through openings in the forest”. In tree skiing, backcountry enthusiasts test their agility and skill in a way that open slopes can’t match. The mix of pillow drops, terrain features, and the trees themselves add to the fun.
One of the unique advantages of tree skiing, especially in the Kootenay region of BC, is its suitability for poor weather conditions. When visibility is low, and the alpine slopes become less navigable, tree skiing remains a viable and thrilling option. The trees provide natural windbreaks and markers, making it easier to ski in conditions that would otherwise hamper alpine skiing. This makes tree skiing particularly appealing to those who don’t want to miss a day on the slopes, regardless of the weather. The snow is usually better too.
“The snow isn’t subject to getting hit by wind and sun and other things (like in the alpine) and the powder can stay pristine in the forest for a very long time. It’s a perfect powder preserver,” says Wright.

tree skiing in the Kootenays

Where To Go Tree Skiing In BC

When it comes to tree skiing, the Kootenay region in British Columbia stands out as the premier destination. In other parts of BC, such as the coastal and northern regions, the trees tend to be bigger and too tight for riding. The Kootenays’ subalpine forests of well-spaced spruce and balsam fir provide the optimal playground for experienced skiers. And the quality of the powder in the Selkirk Mountains is unparalleled – light, fluffy, and consistently deep, providing the perfect conditions for backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
“We have some of the best tree skiing in the world here,” says Wright.

Techniques For Tree Skiing

Mastering tree skiing in BC’s varied terrain requires more advanced techniques. Quick responsive turns are crucial, particularly in areas where the trees are more closely packed. Practicing skiing trees on your local ski hill can help to build confidence and skill before going into the backcountry.
“What I always tell guests is that in the trees, you don’t look at them,” explains Wright. “You’re always skiing towards the spaces.” Skiers should be looking ahead to plan their next moves, and using the terrain to their advantage.

tree skiing in the KootenaysSafety While Riding The Trees

Safety in tree skiing involves understanding and mitigating several risks, some different from alpine skiing. One advantage of the trees is the generally lower risk of avalanches compared to open alpine slopes. However, this does not negate the need for caution. “The guides are responsible for safety in avalanches, and you will get trained on what to do in the unlikely event of an avalanche,” says Wright.
Tree wells, hidden cavities around the base of trees that form when low-hanging branches prevent snow from filling in around the trunk, pose a unique hazard in the trees. Skiers should maintain a safe distance from tree trunks to avoid falling into these wells. “You want to stop in openings on the bottom sides of trees rather than on top of them to avoid falling in tree wells, and don’t turn above trees,” explains Wright.
Awareness of other hazards such as drainages and cliffs is also vital. To reduce the risk of injury from trees, wearing protective gear like goggles and a helmet is essential. Another crucial safety tip for tree skiing is to avoid using ski pole straps which can get snagged and cause dislocated shoulders.
The buddy system is paramount in tree skiing.“It’s always about partnering up with a buddy because your main hazard in the forest is tree wells.” This system not only enhances safety but also contributes to the overall enjoyment and shared experience of triding in the beautiful terrain of the Kootenays.

A jubilant skier reflecting on another spectacular day in the BC backcountry with White Grizzly cat skiing.Planning A Tree Skiing Trip

Although you can get up into the trees by ski touring, heli skiing or cat skiing, using a snowcat is the best all-weather option that rarely has down days, unlike helicopter skiing. That combo of the snowcat and trees means more vertical and more riding. Snowcats can get into the most remote areas when helicopters can’t fly. Powder skis and powder boards are best for flotation and are available for rent from White Grizzly.

White Grizzly Snowcat Skiing

Since 1998, White Grizzly Cat Skiing has catered to advanced and expert skiers and who come for the thrill of steep tree skiing. Located in the town of Meadow Creek, White Grizzly sits at the epicenter of BC’s best snowbelt and the spectacular terrain of the Selkirk Mountains. The all-inclusive, ski lodge is easily accessible and many guests combine a BC cat skiing trip with a few days at nearby Whitewater Resort in Nelson or Revelstoke en route. Check availability, contact us today, or call us at +1(250) 366-4306 to plan your next tree skiing adventure.