We’ve all seen it—halfway up the mountain and only visible from the high-speed quad, a solitary conifer stands slightly too close to the lift line. You can almost reach out and touch it, but the tree is just slightly out of reach. As you zoom by, you catch a glimpse of color—neon yellow, navy blue, even a blinding white or beige. Before you recognize the source of the color, you’re already several feet ahead of the tree. You turn around and think to yourself: Were those… bras?
In most cases, yes, those were bras.
According to bra tree legends, panties, not bras, started this beloved tradition. The bra tree, also known as the panty tree, is a tree underneath a ski lift decorated with bras, panties, and Mardi Gras beads cast off by skiers riding the chair lift.
The first bra tree is believed to have been under the Bell Mountain ski lift at Aspen Mountain in Colorado. It was definitely there in the early 1980s, but it might have started as early as the 1950s. This tree was soon copied at nearby Vail Ski Resort, then transferred to numerous other ski areas across North America. Vail’s bra/panty tree became a local landmark; it was even featured in a 2005 Grand Marnier advertisement.
While every resort seems to have a bra or panty tree, its origin story is difficult to trace. Some chat rooms—including Ski Divas and other LGBTQ+ groups—say that bra trees began in the 1960s as proof of a previous night’s conquest. Other sources believe the bra tree began as a sign of rebellion—skiers rebelling against “the system” by throwing sexuality in the faces of everybody to ride by.
The conversation is ongoing, but some women find the tradition to be downright offensive. Of course, if the bra tree was a designated place for men to brag about their “conquests,” the practice becomes sinister. If, however, the tree was born out of a desire to make sexuality visible—as we’d prefer to believe—the bra tree is instead a beacon of LGBTQ+ pride in an otherwise oppressive industry and pursuit.