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Safety of (eastern) tree skiing?

abc

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Here in the east, we don't have tree wells. So the only danger of skiing unknown trees are being closed out by dense trees, or encountering dead end drops.

The death at Mansfield brought that last risk a little closer to home. It's not clear if the skier fell off or skied off a cliff. But suppose he skied off a cliff he didn't know, or didn't know the condition of the landing...?

I was skiing some of the woods in Stowe Saturday. I'm not particularly familiar with the resort. Even though I know the runs, I don't know all the woods. But this particular patch of woods I had already did once, slowly and cautiously. So the second time I entered it, I THOUGHT I know it so was enjoying going smoothly through it, picking new line with as much fresh as I could find. (so I wasn't doing the exact same line as my 1st run) At one point, I couldn't see where the path would lead to, and I stopped.

I could see skiers going below on an open run. I was only 10-15' above it. There were tracks going in other direction. But the path in front of me was fresh. So tempting... I was almost ready to just go for it with a leap of faith. But being old and a chicken, I decided I want to pick a path I can actually SEE the landing.

After a quick traverse, I found an easy drop into the run below. I decided to go back up the 10-15 yard to check where I would have landed had I continued to pursue my original "fresh line". My heart skipped a beat. Not only was the landing uneven, there were some snowmaking stuff on the side of the trail that I might have bumped into. High likelihood of not ending well.

Often times, we follow tracks in the woods without actually seeing where we ultimately end up. 9 out of 10 times, it leads us out safely. I've certainly have had cases where I really shouldn't have, but my luck had so far held. And even of the many cases I stopped and went elsewhere, only to find it was perfectly safe to have continued on. Every one of those "safe ending" case pushes me insidiously towards being just a little bolder. But this was one case I'm glad I stopped and went the other way.

How do you keep yourself safe in unfamiliar woods? Stopping every few turns is a bit of a kill joy. But sometimes a seemingly easy path may not be so. How do you balance?
 

WWF-VT

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Here in the east, we don't have tree wells. So the only danger of skiing unknown trees are being closed out by dense trees, or encountering dead end drops.

Snowboarder died at Stowe in 2017. Tumbled head-first into a deep pit not far off a trail.

Never ski/ride alone in the woods. Minimum group of 3 - one person stays with the injured person and the other goes for help.
 

kendo

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bdfreetuna

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I don't consider familiar woods much safer than unfamiliar woods. Probably less so because you're cruising with confidence.

The most dangerous woods are whenever you pick up a lot of speed -- margin for error decreases and likelihood of injury goes up.

Never ski/ride alone in the woods. Minimum group of 3 - one person stays with the injured person and the other goes for help.

Might as well never ski at all if you go by yourself. You talking about backcountry or in bounds tree skiing?
 
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abc

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I don't consider familiar woods much safer than unfamiliar woods. Probably less so because you're cruising with confidence.

The most dangerous woods are whenever you pick up a lot of speed -- margin for error decreases and likelihood of injury goes up.
Good point.

Might as well never ski at all if you go by yourself. You talking about backcountry or in bounds tree skiing?
it's like "never hike alone", a rule I violated all my life. In theory, you could break your leg and, no one will come by for a week and you die of starvation. Possible? Yes. Likely?

Some people don't even ski along. I fail to see the relevant.

We're also not suppose to jaywalk in the city. But there's a difference between crossing a side street mid-block when it's red signal for cars, vs. crossing 9th Ave when the light just turned green.

That's why I ask "how do you balance".

Rules about "never" is mostly useless. It's really only good for people who can't or don't want to think (or walk and chew gum at the same time :roll:).
 
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Hawk

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I always ski with a great abundance of caution in the woods. I ski in control all the time. When I feel that I am getting out of control I stop and reset. I never ski alone in the woods. Even with that, two years ago I hooked a stump I did not see and it propelled me into some trees. I did not break or tear anything but had pain for about 4 weeks in my leg and knee. It was just so sudden. I guess the moral of the story is if your ski in the woods it is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. The only thing that changes is the outcome. Some are luckier than others. I am sure there will people that disagree but some of the best skiers I know have had injuries in the woods. A couple I know were out for a year or more. A couple never skied again.
 

Zand

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I ski alone a lot...if I'm going into unfamiliar territory I wait for someone to go in with me. If its familiar I go in alone...worth the risk to me.
 

bdfreetuna

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Yup absolutely when not if.

Agree on stopping and resetting, especially if the legs start burning and/or start feeling sloppy. I'll even call it a day early if I'm not able to rip anymore... just seems like asking for trouble sometimes.

Skiing trees isn't a race it's all about the flow... and you need to be in control to demonstrate said flow.

I ski more trees than trails (when possible) but only have one minor bang-up to speak of. Know your limits! I know I have a good chance of injury every time I ski. Nice thing about skiing alone though is you never have to be in a hurry if you don't want to. If you're in a group and the slower skiing you're chasing the whole time, that can lead to bad judgement and cutting corners in an effort to keep up.
 

jimmywilson69

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as someone who skis trees only a quarter of my time on skis due to living in PA, I'm always skiing way slower than I do when on trails. even my trail skiing is more checked at the bigger mountains for the same reason. Safety. The reset description is really good one. Sometimes even if my flow is good I'll stop and reset to a different line.
 

Orca

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From my perspective, the biggest danger in the woods is catching your ski on some little stump or other hidden feature such it causes you to either fall haphazardly or temporarily lose control, with the attendant risk of hitting something hard and immovable. This danger is heightened when there is marginal cover.

I don't consider cliffs much of a danger in the east. Different story out west.
 

abc

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Sometimes even if my flow is good I'll stop and reset to a different line.
I guess that's the part I'm thinking of.

I stop to "reset" when in doubt. Many times, it's just to re-access or to confirm my intended lines are still good. Often times, the stop breaks the flow.

10 year earlier, my reflex was quicker. Can think on my feet much faster. I can route find, line choice, and execute all in one micro-second. Now, my vision isn't as good, and my brain processing speed also slows down. Can't quite do the same in the same time frame no more. "Stopping to reset" happens a lot more frequent.
 

JimG.

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From my perspective, the biggest danger in the woods is catching your ski on some little stump or other hidden feature such it causes you to either fall haphazardly or temporarily lose control, with the attendant risk of hitting something hard and immovable. This danger is heightened when there is marginal cover.

This. Hidden stumps and deadfall. Barely covered rocks.

Just happened to me about a week ago at K. Skiing in the trees, suddenly hear a clicking noise and then skiing along on one ski. Lucky to come to a stop and look up to see my ski wedged underneath a branch. Slid that baby right under it.

And definitely more of a hazard with marginal conditions.
 

jaytrem

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I always figure skiing in the trees is less likely to kill you. #1 you're no doubt going slower. #2 much lower chance of an out of control skier hitting you. Maybe more likely to get hurt but less likely to be killed. Same deal with mountain biking versus road biking. Almost 0% chance of being hit by a car in the woods, and if you do, it's just not your day.
 

AdironRider

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Skiing the trees does not require 3 people.

Some of the advice in this thread is a little, let's say, overly precautious.

Skiing the trees is not cheating death.
 

KustyTheKlown

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Skiing the trees does not require 3 people.

Some of the advice in this thread is a little, let's say, overly precautious.

Skiing the trees is not cheating death.

you said it man. pretty absurd actually.

after getting some more info on the stowe incident, i can confirm that i have met and skied with andy on at least two occasions. a strong skier and a stowe regular.

his death is tragic, but its not going to change a damn thing about how i ski in the woods. if its anything inbounds or sidecountry terrain i am already familiar with, i will go in alone. i carry a whistle, a walkie, a cell phone, a portable charger, and i always have a basic first aid and firestarting kit on me.

i ski alone 75% of my days. im certainly not staying out of the woods. skiing the woods is the whole point for me, and i prefer the solitude of doing it alone.
 

jimmywilson69

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yeah I pretty much ski the trees by myself when I'm up north. wife knows where I went and where I will meet here. but as I said I'm usually more cautious in there more so because I'm just not a pro at it and I know my limit.
 

bdfreetuna

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I send my wife a text before heading into backcountry and stuff like that and tell her what it's called and follow up text a half hour later or however long it takes.
 

deadheadskier

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I used to ski virtually anything solo. I'd hike the Chin on Mansfield and ski Hourglass and numerous other no fall zone type stuff by myself. I often preferred the experience. Something about being all alone on top of Mansfield that's really cool.

Combination of having kids and a near miss of a serious injury on Tractor Line at Wildcat about four years ago has my mortality a little bit more in check. I don't really ski big boy lines solo any more.

Sent from my XT1635-01 using AlpineZone mobile app
 

KustyTheKlown

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here's the most info i've seen publicly on the stowe death. felt appropriate to continue the convo here (i initially mentioned it in the storm thread). felt inappropriate to give it its own thread. so here we are.

anyway, they took sensation and tried to access the bowls via spruce. i've honestly never skied that side of the notch via stowe, only smuggs, but my understanding is that massive cliffs reside on the stowe side, and if you traverse out to the bowls i've skied from stowe, you wind up very far from stowe on 108 with an uphill traverse back. so i dont know exactly what they were thinking (@deadheadskier, would love your insights here as i know you know the lay of the land well over there), but the article states that andy was found at the bottom of a 220 foot cliff

https://vtskiandride.com/a-skier-dies-and-a-tragic-rescue/

to the point of this thread (because it seems this incident prompted it), these guys weren't 'tree skiing'. they were backcountry skiing in a known cliff zone. huge difference.

edit: looking at some maps, it appears they went the wrong way on the long trail off the top of spruce and wound up on the big cliffs?
 
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