From time immemorial, or at least a half century, downhill skiers have delighted in a tradition whose origin remains shrouded in mystery and speculation. On chairlifts across the continent, the “panty tree” or “bead tree” adorns the slopes and amuses the onlookers as they gracefully fly by overhead.
For those who are not downhill skiers, you may be wondering. The bead tree is typically a located mid-slope on your way up the chairlift and can be host to an assortment of women’s undergarments from bras, panties, and in particular Mardi Gras beads. There may be other items thrown in as well. Anything from ski goggles to mittens might be strung up.
No doubt this tradition started in homage to Mardi Gras and is said to have originated in Colorado at Aspen in the 1950s. Since then, the bead tree has made its way to slopes across the continent, including the Loup Loup Ski Bowl. Well, at least until recently.
The ice storm and high winds that plagued the mountain back in January necessitated falling a number of suspected hazard trees near the chairlift. Unfortunately, this included the beloved bead tree that sparkled in against the white backdrop.
The Loup Loup bead tree happened to be a western larch, so its décor was unencumbered by foliage in the winter. My 10-year-old son in particular was crushed to learn the bead tree had been downed, having brought his own string of beads to toss upon its branches, only to find it no longer standing. No doubt a new bead tree will spring to life in time, it’s just too tempting.
Our family recently visited a few other regional ski areas during the mid-winter break and lo and behold, each resort touted its own version of bead trees. One, in particular, took on its own identity as a boot tree, as old ski boots weighted down the branches.
Tossing discarded items into trees has universal appeal and is a hallmark tradition across the world. For instance, shoe tossing has been popularized in running races such as marathons and fun runs or as political statements. Shirts or shoes are often tossed into trees after the race as a badge of accomplishment. It even has a name: shoefiti. The practice commemorates many cultural connotations and is practiced in many contexts from celebration to protest.
Call it what you want, shoefiti, beadfiti, or panty trees are always amusing and bring a sense of whimsical spirit to the skyline.
Speaking of skyline, images of the Northern Lights keep flooding my social media accounts, as locals are posting their sightings. Every time this celestial event is visible in the valley, I run outside to be ruefully disappointed that once again I cannot see them. Perhaps the light pollution here in center of town is too much, perhaps there’s a foothill or house in my way, perhaps I am just unlucky — pointers are welcome on how to actually see them with a naked eye.