Updated January 2023.
Shredding a nice groomer first thing in the morning just feels good on your skis, but a lot of mountains offer great terrain on more than just the front side. Not everyone dares to venture into the trees, but the backcountry can be filled with playful terrain that’s even more satisfying than a frontside groomer.
Your decision to go off the trail and get in the trees is huge because that means you’re a daring skier that has made the choice to explore.
Frontside carvers are great on the groomers, but definitely aren’t your best option for taking your first trip to the backcountry. So, if you want to take a gnarly trip off the groomed trails, keep reading to find out my picks for the skis that will you give you the best ride for tree skiing.
Top Pick | Nordica Enforcer 94
When Nordica introduced their Enforcer series a few years back, the alpine community went crazy for these skis. Any Nordica Enforcer is the real deal and the updates that Nordica has made this year with the 94 is top of the line.
Nordica Enforcer 94
Among the best for control and turning, the Enforcer is the ski of choice for the best skiers that prefer off-trail skiing.
Turn Radius: 17.1m
The Nordica Enforcer has been my primary ski for the past two years and it doesn’t disappoint. Anyone I’ve talked to on the mountain who uses Enforcers says the same thing…These skis are legit. Let’s find out why!
When you explore trees and ungroomed parts of the mountain, you’re going to want control and a ski that can turn. The Enforcer 94 can do just that and do it better than their previous best-selling models.
The Enforcer can get on edge quickly and make sharp turns, but also still sweep long and fast down the trail. Its turn radius is 17.1m which is low for an all-mountain ski, so this performs well when the trails get tight. This ski is very lightweight, especially in the tips, so it gives you the ability to make quick turns when needed.
Even though this ski is easy to turn and lightweight, you can still power it down the mountain. It has a great high-quality build which is no surprise because Nordica doesn’t disappoint in this department. In the new 94 there are two sheets of Titanal, a new carbon fiber chassis, and an extended wood core which really allows you to push these skis harder than other responsive models.
Even though you’ll want to take a trip to the trees with the Enforcers, you’re not giving up any quality on frontside groomers. This ski performs well all over the mountain.
There’s really not a lot of negative that comes with this ski. My only complaint would be that even though the tips are responsive, the tail can be slightly stiff which will hurt you in really soft snow. This isn’t the best ski for a lot of powder days, but it still has an above-average ride in those conditions considering it has a 94mm underfoot.
For the price and quality, this ski can’t be beaten and that’s why it’s sitting at the top of the list!
Budget Option | Line Sick Day 94
The price point of skis with all-mountain capability that can provide a great ride in the trees is more expensive than a ski with less capability. I don’t know how Line did it with their Sick Day model, but they have changed the game with this ski at the price they’re offering.
Line Sick Day 94
A rare find of skis that can handle all kinds of terrain at a reasonable price point.
Turn Radius: 17.6m
Skis that are lower in price typically don’t give you the feel that Line has done with the Sick Day 94. It has the design of a frontside ski but provides a fun and playful option in the trees.
It’s a great ski for someone making their way up the ranks from beginner to intermediate as it provides a lot of control, it’s easy to turn, and it’s very forgiving on soft snow. At a 17.6m turn radius, you’ll be able to control the ski, but by design, it will take a little more power to get on edge on hard snow.
The lightweight design is a plus when maneuvering through the trees, but we need to remember that this is a budget ski. If you’re looking for a model with a super long lifespan, you’re not going to get it with the Sick Day 94.
Despite the life, the ski will be your best friend on the mountain when you’re tearing up the trees.
It’s not a great ski for a powder day and I found it somewhat unresponsive as trail difficulty rose, but overall Line crushed this ski for an amazing price point.
It’s the best budget ski on the market and you’ll be able to add bindings and boots for the price of other skis if you purchase the Line Sick Day 94.
Best for Advanced Tree Skiing | Salomon QST 106
The QST 106 is an expert ski that delivers in the trees. Salomon tends to be a little pricier, but they deliver with quality and if you’re an advanced skier looking for a playful responsive ski in the backcountry the QST 106 is your perfect companion.
Salomon QST 106
Comfort matched with advanced features makes this boot great for skiers venturing onto harder trails.
Turn Radius: 18m
Stability has been something that Salomon has been trying to perfect in the past few years. They totally did this with the QST model and made it the ski that all advanced skiers were craving.
The body of this ski still features the popular wood core. Some material changes have been made in the tips and tails for added performance, but the redesigned ski shape is what really caught my attention.
Salomon cut down their tip and tail taper which traditionally makes turning a little tougher, but it adds stability when the mountain throws you an inevitable rough section. These are advanced skis though, so the slight shape change isn’t detrimental and has been called a benefit by many skiers who have tested this model on the mountain.
These skis are still able to turn just as easily as older models and hold up well when the backcountry gets choppy. Powder days are fun with the QST 106mm underfoot design. You have the ability to get on edge quickly which is surprising with this big of a waist width, sweep down the mountain on the front side, and feel totally in control in tough tree terrain.
This model was built slightly heavier than the previous QST as well which gives you true all-mountain capability.
So, what are the problems with this ski? First off, they are an investment, especially when considering the added price of bindings and boots. Price is the toughest part of this ski and if you’re an advanced skier who puts in the time off the trails, these skis are worth the investment.
Best for Intermediate Skiers | Volkl Kendo 88
The Volkl Kendo is the ideal ski for intermediate skiers looking to take their skis to the trees. It’s a great ski for someone looking to start shredding off the groomers.
Volkl Kendo 88
Lightweight ski with great control for the intermediate skier looking for some of their first off-piste trails.
Turn Radius: 17m
With that said, it’s engineered to shred on the frontside with ease which is positive for an intermediate skier because you want to still be able to comfortably push hard on the frontside.
This ski is stable and chattering is very minimal for rough conditions. There’s obviously give and take so this ski isn’t the most playful on the market. With that said, edging is still mindless, and you feel in control at all times which results in a wide range of epic turns.
At an 88mm underfoot, this ski operates surprisingly well in moderate powder days. In light powder, this ski absolutely shreds. It’s a great ski to continue honing your craft on the mountain.
Volkl cut the weight of this ski down which made it more forgiving and easier to turn than past models. Despite the lightness of the ski, stability wasn’t compromised.
The tip and tail are slightly curved with a camber underfoot. This design makes this ski able to make any turn your heart desires. Now does it make every turn perfect…Of course not, but it’s a great all mountain ski that thrives in the tress for an intermediate skier.
While this ski has improved in firm snow, it still struggles which is a downfall. I also wish it was a little more playful on the mountain, but its turning capability in all areas is still pretty epic so this doesn’t bother me too much.
If you’re looking for a great intermediate tree ski that will make you a better skier this is a perfect model.
If you’re just getting started, check out our guide to the best skis for beginners.
Runner-Up | Blizzard Rustler 9
For me, when I think of tree skiing Blizzard always comes to mind. I don’t know why, but this company creates some really great gear that I feel goes under the radar.
Blizzard Rustler 9
Great ski with metal underfoot design that lets you make quick poppy turns in tight places.
Turn Radius: 17m
I couldn’t create this list and not find a spot for the Blizzard Rustler 9. This ski should start on the feet of an intermediate skier, but I believe that an advanced skier would be just as pleased with this model.
In the past, Blizzard’s all-mountain capability was positioned more towards the front side, but the Rustler 9 ended that reputation.
This ski is defined by playfulness and the ability to make quick poppy turns whenever your heart desires. It has three available underfoot widths, but for control, in the trails, I would stick with the 94mm waist width.
The playfulness isn’t as noticeable with the larger underfoot widths and the ski loses its all-mountain control with the bigger sizes. The powder won’t be your best friend with the 94mm underfoot, but you’ll also be able to maneuver it while still having all the other capabilities that the Rustler 9 offers.
If you are in more powder skiing areas consider moving up a size, but this ski isn’t as fun with a larger underfoot.
The metal underfoot design allows you to push hard when you want, and the tips are also very light which makes life easy in rough snow. If you’re looking for an epic day on the mountain, this is a great choice.
The reason it fell to a runner-up spot is that it’s solid all around, but doesn’t shine like some of the other skis on the list. Don’t let that statement fool you though because this is an awesome ski and I look forward to seeing what Blizzard does in the future because of the excitement that this model generated in the alpine community.
What to Look for in Tree Skis
You can’t go wrong with any ski on this list depending on your goals. Although, if you don’t feel any of these skis are a great fit here’s what you need to look for in your next pair of shredders that can handle even those touch east coast tree trails.
Underfoot or Ski Width
Underfoot or ski width is measured in millimeters at the narrowest part of your ski. Depending on ability and where you’re skiing you should look for a pair of skis that have an 80-110mm underfoot length.
There are some tradeoffs to take into account. A larger underfoot length allows you to float more in powder and dominate loose snow. The lower the underfoot length, the better the ski will operate on hard-packed snow.
In the trees, you’ll encounter a whole bunch of different conditions. You truly never know what you’re going to get, but think about the weather in the area you typically ski and that should give you some ideas of your local backcountry conditions.
If you know powder isn’t prominent where you live like in the East, I would recommend staying below 100mm for tree skiing. There’s no secret formula for any skier though and this should be based off the type of skis that you feel comfortable with under your feet.
Mixed Camber/Rocker Design
Mixed camber/rocker designs are very popular in skiing now because they provide the best of both worlds. Camber, the half-moon shape that rises under your feet, is awesome for groomers. Rocker is when the tips of the skis are raised on either end which is great in tougher snow conditions.
The combination of these two designs creates skis with an epic ride that can thrive in any tree situation. I would look for a ski with a mixed design because this is the most versatile option on the market for different snow types that may arise on the mountain.
The turn radius refers to the shape of the ski. The measurement is based off the tip, waist, and tail dimensions and is listed in meters. When the tip/tail is significantly wider than the waist, the turn radius will be shorter, and this is typically seen on skis designated for carving.
A shorter turn radius is great in the trees because you’ll need to make quick maneuvers instead of long sweeping turns. A longer turn radius also gives you more control on tough snow.
I would personally look for a turn radius between 16-20m so you get great turning ability in the trees, but also can bomb down open areas and still shred on the frontside.
All Mountain Versatility
Skiing in the trees is a lot of fun because it allows you to explore. Even though the unmarked trails are great, that doesn’t mean you’ll never hit the front side again.
There will be days when you want to push hard on the frontside so my recommendation with tree skis would be to look for a model with true all mountain capability.
Every ski on my list has all-mountain capability, but some were better than others in different areas. Assess your goals and that will help you make a great decision on what categories you want to excel in and where you want to take a hit.
I will always say that the fancy technology in skis makes a difference, but the skier makes the ski more than the ski makes the skier.
Ski shopping can be overwhelming, but always remember that statement and you’ll be a pro!
Do you need a second pair of skis?
If you’re reading this then I am assuming you’re not a beginner since you’re looking to ski some tougher tree trails. If that’s the case, then you may want to consider investing in a second pair of skis.
Of course, everyone should have some good all-mountain skis. But if you like to vary your terrain and want to get more aggressive skiing through the tree trails, then having skis specifically for those types of trails is a good idea.
Tree skiing can be dangerous. Having the wrong gear can affect your ability to make quick adjustments and turns to avoid hazards. A good ski helmet is important too, of course.
So before you try some new and tricky terrain, make sure you have the right gear. Any of the skis on this list will serve you quite well for skiing off the trail and finding some new and exciting places on the mountain.