Mommy, where do panty trees come from?
You’ve probably skied by one, or perhaps you’ve wound up the pitch from the chairlift and tossed something silky into the outstretched branches of a nearby aspen. Maybe you shielded the eyes of your child as you rode past barely-there lace unmentionables. However your first time happened, to ski is to experience the Panty Tree.
A storied talisman of ski culture, the Panty Tree first took root in the late 1970s in—where else?—aspen, Colorado.
Aspen Ski Company had just hired its first female ski patroller, and in an effort to see more women on the roster, less spots were made available to men. In protest, a handful of patrollers, developmentally indistinguishable from rocks, tossed a robust nursing bra in the tree off Bell Mountain Chair.
“Other people thought it was pretty funny; they didn’t realize the protest involved,” says Tim Cooney, a 30-year veteran of the Aspen Ski Patrol who was there when the first undies went up. “People went to the thrift shops and bought up all the underwear just to throw on the tree.”
Then came the complaints—or more likely, a single complaint, laments Cooney—at the arbor décor, and mountain ops ordered the ornaments be removed.
“The resulting craze by locals and visitors to restock the tree in defiance of the old-school mountain manager’s attempts to clean out the undies only led to more,” recalls Cooney.
A lift mechanic built a special tool for the retrieval task, but he couldn’t keep up. The mountain manager then mandated the original tree cut down, but the underwear simply moved uphill to the next tree.
Interest in the tree fell off as a new era of faster lifts rerouted ski traffic up the new gondola, but not before visiting ski patrollers on exchange from Vail took the inspired tradition home with them to Sundown Bowl.
And so it spread, sparking generations of copycat trees at other ski areas and inspiring a coy Grand Marnier commercial in 2004.
Present day bar banter may lead you to believe the undergarments adorning your local evergreens and conifers are the result of post-après bow-chick-a-wow-wow. However, in an act of freewheeling re-appropriation, today’s modern mountain women are more likely to have to cast their knickers to the trees all by themselves.