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Steamboat Magazine

The Value of Skiing Steamboat’s Trees With a Guide by Your Side

12/16/2016 03:56PM ● By Dan Greeson

Dianne Leeth tree-skis the Shadows at the Steamboat Ski Area. Photo by Dan Leeth.

I’m a guy. I don’t ask for directions and I didn’t figure I needed a ski instructor to guide me around Steamboat, a resort where I’ve been downhilling for decades. 

My wife, Dianne, on the other hand, believes there’s always something new to be learned. So on our last trip to Steamboat Springs, she arranged for ski school instructor Kayla Kawalick to show us around the mountain. 

“What would you like to do today?” the young woman asked as we rode the gondola to Thunderhead. 

Dianne gave me a “don’t say a thing” warning snarl. Then turning to Kayla, she answered, “I want to ski the trees.” 

Gliding through glades is nothing new to us. Over the years, we’ve carved turns around the Eagle Wind woods at Winter Park, the Powerline Glades at Snowmass and the Sherwood Forest at Aspen Highlands. At Keystone, we almost always ski the Black Forest off the Outback and Peak 10’s glades in Breckenridge. 

We’ve rarely tackled trees at Steamboat. And as we’ve discovered in the past, skiing routes we don’t know sometimes leads to mouth-bleeping predicaments. A few years ago, for example, we picked a unique route off the North Face T-bar at Crested Butte and ended up in a forest so thick the local deer would need a roadmap to get through it. Skiing with a knowledgeable guide at Steamboat, my lovely wife concluded, would allow us to branch into the trees without going out on a limb.

“Remember to look at the openings,” Kayla reminded us. “If you look at the trees, you’ll hit them.”

Many people fear tackling the glades with good reason. Snow-covered limbs can snag skis, bashing branches can lead to Blue Cross claims and plunging headfirst into a tree well can result in deep-powder asphyxiation.

In spite of the dangers, we find tree skiing to be exhilarating. There’s the challenge of choosing a good route and making quick turns with the trees serving as slalom gates. Glades are seldom crowded, the good snow remains longer and the beauty of skiing past bare-naked aspen and snow-cloaked evergreens can be downright stunning. For safety, we never ski the trees solo, and we keep our speeds slower than a white Buick in a school zone.

After a warm-up run at Morningside, Kayla led us down our first route through the woods. The exit required us to pick our way across Buddy’s Run, an intermediate-level trail teeming with schussing skiers and straight-lining snowboarders. I felt like John Wayne dodging bullets as I dashed across the traffic.

“I’ll take the safety of trees over this any day,” I thought to myself.

We skied more glades before lunch. Then it was back to the slopes, where Kayla took us into forested areas we had never thought of skiing before. Our routes varied, sometimes wending around emerald-green conifers and other times through groves of silvery aspen.

By day’s end, we had skied past enough trees to keep Paul Bunyan’s axe swinging for a month, and our bodies felt it. A simmering soak seemed definitely in order. Returning to our lodging, I asked the desk clerk for the quickest route to the hotel’s hot tub.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Dianne exclaimed in utter disbelief. “You actually asked for directions.”

This article was first published by the Denver Post on March 26, 2016. Reprinted by permission. © 2016, Dan Leeth