The Evolution of Tree Skiing

edited November 23 in NELSAP Forum
The evolution of tree skiing. There was a thread this summer started by IBRAKEFORTBARS discussing which areas have the best tree/glade skiing:

This made me think of a related topic – the evolution of tree skiing at US ski resorts. We’ve all seen tree/glade skiing become a big part of the sport in the last two or three decades, especially for advanced skiers and boarders as they seek more challenge, variety, and better snow. If you still read hardcopy ski mags they are now loaded with stories on tree skiing and backcountry ski exploits. I’m curious to hear observations from other Snowjournalists (young and old) on the birth and growth of tree skiing; when did you first become aware of it, when and where did you first start doing it, how quickly in your region was it adopted by the masses, which places early-on allowed it or prohibited it, how has tree skiing changed over time for better or worse, what changes will come in the future, etc?

Timberline, WV

Laurel Mtn, PA

Snowbird, UT

Blue Knob, PA

Laurel Mtn, PA

Wildcat, NH

Mt. Bachelor, OR

Loveland, CO

Mad River Glen, VT

Sunday River, ME

Whistler-Blackcomb, BC



  • As far as I know, glade skiing was available going back well over 50 years. One of the best glades was Downdraft at Killington. Following the landmark Sunday vs. Stratton decision, glades were closed or just turned into trails as a requirement by the insurance companies. (Haven't seen him post for a while, but "DowndraftsLastTree" was an allusion to the destruction of Downdraft.)

    Glades started coming back in earnest in the 90's. I don't think there is any area with more than 75" per year of natural snow that doesn't have glades.
  • Yeah, I think Joshua Segal has the correct answer. I was going to say that I don't know the details, but in the 80's and early 90's the fear of liability lawsuits seemed to be a much bigger deal that it was today.
  • The original Downdraft was a real nice tree run and held snow into May down to the K chair mid station.
  • edited November 24
    Interesting, so you guys are saying that as long as there has been skiing in New England, there has been tree/glade skiing? I suppose that comes from a heritage of skiing originally based only on using natural snow and skiing wherever the fall line took you, through farmer Brown's pasture & tree farm if required.

    Maybe the idea that there wasn't always tree skiing and it emerged as a popular pastime in the last 25 years is a mid-Atlantic thing? (or a JimK thing :) ) Since down here the feasibility of skiing has always been based on the use of snowmaking to ensure a suitable, but limited surface??
  • edited November 24
    Hmm are we talking about ski area sanctioned glade runs? We should search our ancient trail maps. IDK, I think recall hearing about MRG forever but I didn’t ski there. We use to ski the woods at Kpeak in the late 70s or 80s and I had thought it was forbotten. Jeesh back then if you built a mini jump or jumped in from the woods they threatened to cut your ticket. The first area I recall skiing woods on the map was Steamboat circa 1980, Smugglers was probably the next place I became aware of.
    ISNE-I Skied New England | NESAP-the New England Ski Area Project | SOSA-Saving Our Ski Areas - Location SW of Boston MA
  • The Killington 68-69 ( trail map shows both Big Dipper and Downdraft - both glades. Downdraft was much tighter than Big Dipper.

    The 1960-1 MRG Trail Map shows glades. (

    As I suggested above, the bigger anomaly was when glade skiing disappeared.
  • If we use a broad definition, "an open place in a forest; clearing", there are more examples. Technically even Nashoba, MA has glades with pine trees scattered about the slopes. There were more of them when I was skiing there in the 1980s/1990s but they have been thinned out.

    The Murphy's Glades at Sugarbush and Sleeper Glades have been around since the 60s. There are similar trails at Pico too.

    Sometimes I enjoy these wide open glades than steep, tight ones as you can usually go faster, but the trees provide more interest than a usual slope.
  • edited November 24
    I believe the first purpose cleared tree skiing in the east was Stowe's Slalom Glade cut by Charlie Lord before the chairlift was installed. Now called Nosedive Glade.
  • I believe the first purpose cleared tree skiing in the east was Stowe's Slalom Glade cut by Charlie Lord before the chairlift was installed. Now called Nosedive Glade.

    What year are we talking about?
  • edited November 24
    1939/40 I'll find a citation. Fall 1940 but this source says Slalom Glade was cut in 1936 along with Nosedive: The Coming of Charlie Lord
  • In the early 60's my friends and I skied through the trees beside the Rambler trail at Hidden Valley, PA. We did it but we certainly call it glade skiing. At HV and Seven Springs, Bear Rocks and Boyce Park, where I grew-up skiing, I don't recall any glades.

    My '69 ski atlas shows Stratton's The Glade as an open glade. It appears to be where World Cup is now. So I guess in '62/63 it was built as a glade.
  • I first started skiing in the trees at Boyce Park. When they cut the trails in 1965 they planted evergreens between the slopes. I must have skied those short evergreens for the first time in the 1970s. The ski patrol kept knocking down the kickers kids were building on the side of the trail so the kids found a slight clearing in the trees and put the kicker there. You had to ski a line trough the trees to hit the kicker. Soon I lost interest in the jump and just made some turns in the trees which thinned out lower on the hill. I had my first unpleasant experience with deadfall at these unofficial glades.On a last run of the day I ventured into the trees confidently, gleefully and there was the branch not quite visible in the dyeing December light. Lucky or not so luck for me it was only a 2 foot stick that that I ran over, probably in the midst of setting an edge and sprong, the stick pops up and hits me in the balls...but I did not fall.

    The next set of glades I skied were at Laurel Mountain beginning in the late 1970s. I found cleared tree shots all over the mountain. I later learned that Laurel's President, GM, Mountain Ops GM, Ski School Director, Bar/Food Manager and general do's it all, Doc DesRoches, began cutting new ski terrain he called Forest Slalom. These glades were cut in the late 1950s through 1962 or 63. They have since been maintained even during decades of official closer. Today a dedicate group of Laurel loyalist work with the State and operator Seven Springs to continue the time honored tradition of citizen stewardship of ski grounds on public land.

    I first skied Stowe's Slalom Glades in the mid 1980s. Over the years I have been introduces to some very fine tree runs at Stowe.

    I skied Jay Peaks glades the first or second year the began to mark them on a map.

    When I started skiing in the trees I found the best, least track snow on the mountain there. Now most steep inbound glades are bobsled chutes or icy mogul fields with trees. No wonder there is an explosion of side country and back country skiing.

    Or maybe find a little local hill and go redd up the woods.

    Most of the time I'm lost in the trees.
  • I first became aware of tree skiing, as in skiing in the woods between trails as opposed to in marked glades, in the mid-1990s. I think it was around that time that ski areas started instituting "border-to-border" policies, where skiing between trails was no longer prohibited. I have it in my head that either Jay or MRG was the first place to do this.
  • Sounds like glade and tree skiing has been around for awhile if not from the very beginning. I can remember skiing my first glades at Ragged (1st ownership) in the late 60s. The trail was called "The Glades" and is now called "Raggae Glades". Not much of a glades trail by today's standards but was a lot of fun for the South Junior High School Ski Club in Hingham.
  • Growing up, Holiday Valley always had "Happy Glade" in the Upper Area. It was fairly tight though I imagine it's been thinned out since I've been there. "Shadows" also had numerous trees before they were cut down as well in the 70's. "Devil's Glen" was cut in the 80's when the first Morning Star lift was put in.
    "Making ski films is being irresponsible with other people's money, in a responsible sort of way..." 
    Greg Stump
  • edited November 26
    It is very interesting to hear tales from different folks about their memories of early tree/glade skiing. From my own experiences growing up near Wash DC, I’d say when you grew up and where you skied plays a big part in your perceptions of the history of inbounds tree skiing at ski resorts. I started skiing in 1967 in the mid-Atlantic at a ski area called Blue Knob in western PA. It is now known for some of the best tree skiing south of NY state IF Mother Nature cooperates, and that IF means they are lucky to have decent tree skiing about 3 weeks a winter with sufficient natural snow to safely cover the woods. Although several folks here have recounted experiences of glade skiing in PA in the 60s or 70s, in my humble opinion the legacy of tree skiing in the mid-Atlantic is much weaker than New England or out west.

    Back in the 60s and 70s there was very little tree skiing going on at the mid-Atlantic ski areas I frequented, for example I never saw it at Liberty, Roundtop, Bryce, Massanutten, Wintergreen, and Canaan Valley Ski Area (they may have had one narrow trail they called a glade back then). In 1981 White Grass touring/Nordic ski area opened in Canaan Valley next to Canaan Valley downhill ski area and I’m sure at that time glade skiing started to flower there, esp. after nearby Timberline, WV ski area opened a couple years later (1984?). Timberline and Blue Knob are the two areas I am familiar with south of NY state that have the most extensive tree skiing. Timberline (summit elev 4200’) gets more natural snow than Blue Knob (summit elev 3120’) and is likely to have more weeks of tree skiing because of that. In deference to Laurel Hill Crazy’s superior first hand knowledge, I should also include Laurel Mtn as a prime mid-Atlantic spot for tree skiing when the natural snow is good.

    At Blue Knob before 1980 there may have been a few gullies or short cuts through the woods that received light traffic, but I do not remember significant tree/glade skiing activity by the masses there in the late 60s and throughout the 70s for a few reasons.
    - It just wasn’t done. It was considered too dangerous. Heck, this was the pre-terrain park era when we’d get in trouble with Patrol just for building a little kicker on a groomed run.
    - No one cleared the potential areas for tree skiing of deadfall, thick underbrush, and other hazards.
    - In the mid-Atlantic we often did not get enough natural snow to allow skiing in areas without man-made snow cover, particularly treed areas with deadfall, stumps, brush, etc.
    - Better skiers were focused on mogul skiing or racing.

    I guess I would say sometime in the early ‘80s I began to notice more people doing tree skiing at Blue Knob. At first it was just a few locals and not many of the general public and the areas they were doing it were not too obvious or inviting. By the 90s it started to go public and the resort started clearing some wooded areas between trails. By around 2000 Blue Knob had become associated with the slogan “ski good or eat wood”. I also became aware of good tree skiing at Timberline ski area in WV around the same time. I’ve always gone on occasional ski trips to New England or out west, but didn’t really look for tree skiing on those trips until the last 25 years. I can remember skiing glades at Smuggs around 1990. Since the early 2000s I been going west more frequently for ski trips and by then tree skiing was quite common out west. Loveland might have been one of the first western places where I really got into it. Now it’s everywhere in New England and out west, but still quite limited or not available at many mid-Atlantic areas.

    I’m not especially skilled at tree/glade skiing and don’t do real backcountry skiing, but like many folks when there are good natural snow conditions I enjoy dabbling with inbounds trees/glades and exploring nearby hike-to side-country and off-piste. I wrote a piece back in 2012 for DCSki trying to get a handle on the special qualities of tree skiing here:
  • null

    Stratton still has a trail called "Slalom Glade" (although it no longer has trees) that skis into their "World Cup" trail.
  • marcski said:


    Stratton still has a trail called "Slalom Glade" (although it no longer has trees) that skis into their "World Cup" trail.

    Yes, my guess is when they "created" World Cup they made the original into two trails. Of course WC is much steeper.
  • Pretty great article about the history of glade skiing from the NE Ski Museam

    One item you'll find interesting JimK is: "Some of the earliest glades for skiing on record were created in the Mid-Atlantic region, not New England"
  • Nice find Cannonball! I thought you might be referring to Laurel Mtn PA which goes way back or the lost Weis Knob, WV ski area, but your source actually points to glade skiing in The Pinnacles area along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia about 1938. I never knew about that. Coincidentally, I had a picnic with family at the Pinnacles picnic area on Skyline Drive this summer. The 1938 photo from that area included in the article is fascinating to me because the glade is so open/cleared.

    Shen Natl Park today has very dense forest cover almost everywhere within boundaries, but much of the land for the park was reclaimed from settlers/hillbillies around 1930 and may have still had many open gladed, crop fields, orchards, and meadow areas in 1938.

    Today the Pinnacles area would never be considered for skiing because it’s inside the national park, also because it’s too warm to get much natural snow. But the mtns in Shen Natl Park top out at 4k feet with low valleys on each side, so there is potential for 2500+ foot vertical descents in perfect conditions.
  • marcski said:


    Stratton still has a trail called "Slalom Glade" (although it no longer has trees) that skis into their "World Cup" trail.

    I think Rip Chord at Mt. Snow was originally called Slalom Glade also. I don't know if it was treed.
  • I think a differentiation between types of glades would be beneficial to the conversation. A lot of areas seemed to have "open glades" quite some time ago. These would be trails that are wide enough between trees that a groomer could slip through them (a more literal use of the term "glade"). Many of those types of glade trails fell victim to snowmaking.

    My first real glade experience was Sunday River around 2000 or so. They had a lot of glades on the map back then and have only added a few more since then (they even took Spruce Cliffs off the map, how many other on map glades have been removed from the official map/trail list?). So more "tree skiing" type glading was already well established by the 90s. Though we've obviously seen a lot more on map glades during the past 20 years as interest in getting off the groomers has accelerated.

    I suspect we're going to see a slow down in new on map glades at this point. Though some areas will still continue to debate whether or not to put off map glades onto the map. But I really don't see many areas investing in new glade cutting at this (perhaps excepting Black of Maine which only recently began to glade out to attract more guests).

  • Interesting how old photo from Pinnacles is similar to my new photo from Laurel Mtn???

  • I've always wondered why the mogul race on Ripcord was called "Gladiator". (I think it has been changed.) I certainly don't know all of the mountain's history, but I never heard of it being a glade. But one would think that's where the race name came from.
  • edited November 27
    JimK said:

    Interesting how old photo from Pinnacles is similar to my new photo from Laurel Mtn???

    To give context to what we're looking at in Jim's Laurel photo, in the center you see a straight shot through the trees. I'm sure you recognize that as a rope tow line. It was Laurel's first rope tow. To the right is a glade, slightly tighter than when originally cut in 1961.

    It is on today's trail map as Doc's Forest Glade.

  • edited November 28
    There are labeled glades on the 1982 Stowe map above Nose Dive. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was introduced to glade skiing at Killington and then at Stowe and MRG. There was always glade skiing at Sugarbush off the Paradise trail. At Gore there was always tons of off the map stuff that has slowly joined the map.
    Here is the Stowe map from 1982


    It is on today's trail map as Doc's Forest Glade.

    I mostly skied at Hidden Valley during the early 60's. I did ski at Laurel Mt. when they had the beautiful red lodge. I didn't have the nerve to ski Lower Wildcat. At that time the main lift was a T-bar. The newspaper article brings back memories. At the end, the phone number is ATlantic 1-... as in AT1-. Who is old enough to remember numbers beginning with 2 letters?
  • Me. Na 28207
  • Remski said:

    Me. Na 28207

    Cute... I was TE5-8446 growing up in Pittsburgh.
  • edited November 30
    TomWhite said:

    It is on today's trail map as Doc's Forest Glade.

    I mostly skied at Hidden Valley during the early 60's. I did ski at Laurel Mt. when they had the beautiful red lodge. I didn't have the nerve to ski Lower Wildcat. At that time the main lift was a T-bar. The newspaper article brings back memories. At the end, the phone number is ATlantic 1-... as in AT1-. Who is old enough to remember numbers beginning with 2 letters?

    I didn't ski Laurel until the late 1970s. The lodge that you refer to burned down in 1970 under questionable circumstances. The T-bar was long gone by then but there are still remnants along its tow line. Riding that must have been something because it traveled the same pitch as Lower Wildcat and yes, it is steep, not extreme but steep. I am old enough to remember my phone number beginning with two letters AC4-8005 and we didn't have to dial the area code but often had to wait to make a call because of others on our party line.

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