Sometime around the middle of the twentieth century a new species of tree was found blooming in the vicinity of a mountain resort. This tree was unlike any other plant species previously discovered. It would blossom and grow during the darkness and cold of the harsh winter months and its leaves were oddly shaped and simply out of place next to Mother Nature’s other creations. Although nobody knows for certain how such a tree began to take root it survived, some say thrived, and slowly began reproducing in the mountainous regions of the North American continent. If you haven’t already figured it out I am referring to the infamous Underwear Tree, also affectionately known as the Bra Tree or the Panty Tree, that grow within easy throwing distance of any chairlift.
The lineage of the first Underwear Tree has, unfortunately, been lost to time, but there are two common beliefs as to the whereabouts of the original specimen. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s America entered what is commonly referred to as the Sexual Revolution where people first began challenging the accepted beliefs towards sexuality. The urge to find oneself and buck society’s sexual norms likely played a role in sprouting the nation’s first Panty Tree. Beneath the Bell Mountain chairlift at Aspen Mountain Resort the satiny buds of that early tree began to emerge. The women’s undergarments, likely tossed by ski patrol’s male members, were hung like trophies from the previous night’s conquests. Depending on who you talk to it’s also been said that the underwear needed to be stolen without the other person knowing before they could be contributed to the prized tree.
The other commonly referenced origin story also places the tree at Aspen except its birth wasn’t until the mid-1980’s. According to a veteran patroller someone tossed a brazier into the tree bearing the name of a controversial figure within the skiing community. The humorous stunt was so well received that during its heyday more than fifty bras and other unmentionables could be counted hanging from the crowded branches. The tree transformed into a symbol of rebellion. Officials threatened to remove the tree and ban those who were participating in the knicker-lobbing escapades, which only lead to an increase in action.
Aspen’s time in the skivvy spotlight was cut short due to the installation of their gondola and the discontinued use of the Bell Chair in the early 1990’s, but the story doesn’t end there. The Underwear Tree re-spawned at another popular Colorado ski resort, Vail. According to legend the initial pair of panties were procured during a particularly steamy gondola ride. After complaints from concerned families over its appropriateness Vail’s original tree was chopped down, but it was reborn in one of the resort’s back bowls and has flourished there ever since. If Aspen gets the distinction of being the first to have a Bra Tree then Vail is credited as the one to make it famous. The tree reached its pinnacle of popularity in 2004 when the after-dinner cocktail giant Grand Marnier used the tree as part of their marketing strategy. The tagline for the advertisement stated, “You just recognized a pair of panties in the Sundown Bowl tree…the conversation is waiting.“
Word travels fast, but tales of erotic triumphs are even faster. Combine all that folklore with Vail’s critical acclaim and it’s easy to see why countless winter resorts now boast a tree of their very own. The tradition has even spread north of the border and many resorts here in Alberta aren’t immune to the Underwear Tree’s silky blossoms. Lake Louise has one. So does Castle Mountain. Marmot Basin’s is located beneath the Knob Chair, which cannot be a coincidence. Sunshine actually has multiple trees scattered throughout its boundaries. But the rest of Canada is not immune to the deluge of the provocative plant either. There have also been sightings at mountain resorts in British Columbia and as far away as Ontario.
I have no doubt the true spirit of that first tree still lives on to some degree, but I believe the reasons for disrobing today are far greater reaching than the original intent. Maybe it’s just some spur of the moment fun or that skiing commando is the right amount of risque in your life or perhaps the occasion is a little more on the racy side, whatever your reason the tree will be waiting. These days you’re just as likely to see men’s boxers, briefs, and gitch suspended alongside those bright lacy panties and animal-print bras we’ve come to expect. The statement is obviously far less political and nowadays the one contributing the negligee is just as likely to be female in what was once a male dominated venture. Despite its lewd beginnings and contentious nature the Underwear Tree’s lineage runs deep and is in no danger of being uprooted any time soon.