Glade skiing is not about speed and power, but about grace under pressure. It is dancing a ballet on snow crystals where a mistake can really hurt.  It is that fine line where fantasy and reality meet, especially when you are knee-deep in a fresh blanket of powder that rests lightly between the trees.

When you find that rhythm where decisions become subconscious rather than worrisome; when you get to that skill point where you can relax and the whole run slows down in your brain, then trees don’t go whipping by, they ghost on past you.

You no longer see tree trunks or boulders, but only the white avenues between them.

There is an intimate relationship between powder snow and me. Neither of us actually speak, but I sometimes feel a door opening, a finger beckoning, the seductive music welling up from underneath, and the flashing danger of boulders and trees that go rocketing by.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, most famous for writing The Little Prince, once said that, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” However, you can’t plan a descent down through a mountainside of trees and boulders. So, I guess it follows, then, that a drop down into a tree-covered vertical snow field is simply a wish that has come true.

For some of us, the ultimate thrill is to go where there is no path and leave a trail.  I want to go farther. I want to go where no one has gone before, where the wind and snow cover my run so no one will ever know I have been there.

Carve your own patterns.  Be a performance snow artist. Look back up the mountain and marvel at your own creative genius.

Grooming a trail is like putting a goopy gel in your hair to make it behave. Powder, on the other hand, is like the long flowing tresses of Mother Nature that move gently in the wind, enfolding you in their thick lovely strands.

I pitched down into the sea of green-spotted white, my skis floating on an uncertain medium. The wide powder skis disappeared into the fluff and all I could see, if I looked down, was a vee of snow peeling away from the top of my boots.  But in powder skiing you don’t have time to look down.

What you are forced to look for is the white openings. If you concentrate on the trees or boulders you are in trouble. There has to be an internal calmness that realizes every turn is a leap of faith; that you know there will be a way out even when you can’t immediately see it.

I know I am there only at the pleasure of the snow Gods. The deep crystals invite me in close and protect me, allowing me to penetrate and then let me float through the cold smoke as if there is no yesterday and no tomorrow but only the here and now.

I never assume that I am in control because I know there is always the danger of a stump just under the surface of the snow, put there to remind me of my limitations.

Unlike groomed runs where you power up the downhill ski, here you get both skis equally involved in floating just underneath the surface of the snow.

Gentle pressure, forward movement, never looking down. Find the snow, find that small chute that gives you the lane down the mountain. When you put your skis together, all you need is enough space to get the core of your body through. Sometimes the opening is so narrow you have to turn your shoulders to fit.

Think of a narrow doorway in your house. If you can find an open lane about that size you can move on down. The trick is to seek out a series of doorways as you drop down the mountain. Every turn requires that you know in your heart that another opening will revealed when you round this boulder or that tree.

That doesn’t mean you can’t stop and enjoy the moment, but what it does mean is that you are in the woods where all you will hear is the occasional locational shout from companions who have joined you in this roller coaster of joy.

What fascinates me about glade skiing is that you have to make a series of choices, sometimes in a nanosecond, to avoid hitting something very hard. You turn when Mother Nature demands, not when you happen to want to, as on an open groomer or even a mogul run.

You don’t control the course, only your reaction to it. This is not a hostile environment until you introduce speed and movement. Speed is what brings the challenge, and it is in that process of control that I find the most solace.

No one is in control of my movement. No one else says turn right or left. No one else says go fast here or slow there. It is my challenge, and I control the pace of my movement.

At first, I struggled a bit, trying too hard to be analytical. Conscious choices, which take time to process, gave way to simple reaction. A really great Robert Johnson blues song started to work its way up from the recesses of my mind, and my body started to simply react.

Soon, I became a tiny figure on the surface of a huge mountain, dropping down its uncaring sides, finding spaces where there were none, turning and dropping ever downward. At first, there was a heartbeat and air rushing into demanding lungs, then there was music to replace it, and then even that fell away as I simply disappeared.


  1. Just had to add my two cents. I have always been the odd man out. Or the one who thinks outside the box/garage. Back in the 70’s while teaching at Aspen Highlands with the GLM method I would use a pair of 170 Heart Freestyle and go dancing in the woods. People always were asking how come I had snow up my back 2/3 days after a snowfall. Well, it’s simple. Just make more turns around and between the trees. It was very long before people were asking ,how do you do that? The rest is history and now it part of my past. I still try to do it when I think I can. Ken

  2. Richie Silver says:

    Dave –What a wonderful piece. You have beautifully describe just how I feel as well when darting through the trees. It’s both serene and adrenaline inducing–that’s skiing!!!

  3. My friend…a piece of ski poetry. Thank u! ‘Much appreciated!

  4. Peter Gordon says:

    Beautifully written, David. You captured a sensation that I’ve found unleashes the highest level of joy in my skiing: It’s those (all too rare) moments I’m in what’s called “The Zone,” just flowing through the trees with little conscious thought but pure control and confidence. Ahhh…

  5. Anthony Summit says:

    Wonderful essay. You expressed many of the joys that I attain gliding through the trees with an untracked canvass before me. At 77 I just experienced my most memorable season of tree skiing deep powder. I am already dreaming of next year.

  6. Lee Hall Delfausse says:

    Exciting writing that brings back the unrivaled joy of flying in powder through the trees. I’m glad he didn’t describe the moment when there is no exit or a face plant.

  7. Tony Natella says:

    I’m right there with the 77year old.
    Just had to tell my best powder steep
    tree run ever.
    The steeps out back at park city 30 years ago. With my buddy Charlie following close behind turn for turn. I am flowing into the white ribbons every turn a surprise with new blind white options; suddenly I am air born off a 15 ft cliff and land flat on my back in a frozen lake; That was very cool but about 3 seconds later Charlie landsed right next to me on his back: like being in bed together. The hike out over the untracked powder was murder: but worth it.
    We were both very excited about that run. We looked all afternoon and could not find the line , a one time only thing. A lifetime of great memories.
    Planning to ski next year at 78, been off 1 year for health reasons. Getting fitter .
    My number 1 passion is skiing. When I explain what skiing is like to a non skier I say this: I say: imagine you are flying, falling and dancing all at once:

  8. Cansnowplow says:

    David, what quality sharing of sensation. You NAILED IT! Speed needs to be respected and is the factor between powder skiing in a glade being a joy or in being downright foolish. I for one do not like skiing in powder with a fat ski, as you lose the ample snow build-up with legs/feet close together, serving as a natural braking system. This build-up is my check on speed. A fat ski in the glade reminds me of just water skiing, hardly penetrating the layers comparatively, having to smear to dump speed. The joy of powder in glades at a slower speed allows you to listen to the hissing sound of your shovels surfacing and submerging. Funny, but I too have a favorite tune I hum to as I am in this utopian state. I am going to print your creation and read it weekly, once I hang them up.

  9. Tony Shaw says:

    Arriving atop your favorite quiet steep overlooked glade, whether it’s lift-served or BC, pausing first to get into the right, relaxed headspace, and dropping in with confidence (never arrogance), this is second-only to the weightless moments you experience – left, right, left… getting to the bottom, as grateful for the age-old trees as for the fluffy deep and ephemeral pow tucked in between. At 64 I’m still good with this ballet, and when one day I give it up the visceral memories of these moments in the trees will sustain me I’m sure.

  10. Toby Covich says:

    Nicely written about lost in the moment, to which I believe is indescribable with words. Film does it some justice, being there is what it is all about. We use a Raven call to locate each other and avoid collisions.

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