As you ride the chair lift at a popular ski resort, you may notice bras, panties, and even beads strung across a nearby tree. This is the “panty tree”, and it’s a tradition that apparently started in Aspen during the 1970s or 1980s.
What is the Bra Tree/Panty Tree?
A bra tree or panty tree is simply a tree onto which people throw bras, panties, and beads. They are often thrown from ski lifts and as they can be a nuisance to remove, many resorts just leave them there for the season. Providing they don’t cause any problems for the guests and there are no complaints, there’s generally no rush to remove them.
What is the Purpose of the Bra Tree?
Like many legends, the truth behind the origins of the bra tree isn’t very clear and there are a few theories, some more fantastical than others.
- It stems from a time when ski resorts allowed naked skiers, and so guests would toss aside their underwear at the end of the day and then ski naked.
- It is an offering to some kind of snow god, whether in jest or because copious amounts of alcohol and marijuana had been consumed.
- The employees/guests take the bras and panties from their “conquests” and use the tree to display them to everyone else.
- It is connected to Mardi Gras and is some kind of celebration of excess and nudism.
An article on Powder might be closer to the truth. It suggests that the bra tree began as a protest in Aspen, Colorado.
Aspen Ski Company began hiring more women, making fewer spots available to men. As a protest, male patrollers threw a bra into a tree near Bell Mountain Chair.
Some of the guests found it amusing and began tossing other underwear into the tree. Someone complained, the mountain manager removed them, and in defiance, the locals began restocking the tree.
It became a cat-and-mouse game that eventually resulted in the tree being chopped down. But that didn’t stop the locals—they simply moved onto another tree.
As so often happens, the practice spread and before long there were panty trees at resorts across the United States, as well as numerous origin stories. Although it began as a “bra tree”, it eventually morphed into a general underwear tree, and when the Fat Tuesday stories spread, it became common to see Mardi Gras beads on these trees.
When Did Bra Trees Become a Thing?
Bra trees began sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, the exact date changes depending on who you ask, but most agree that it began near Bell Mountain ski lift on Aspen Mountain.
Are There International Bra Trees?
The practice seems limited to North America thus far, and while you might see the occasional homage in European resorts, pantry trees are rare on the other side of the Atlantic.
Most bra trees are in the United States, but there are a few in Canada, as well, including Camp Fortune and Banff Sunshine Village.
Axe actually ran an advertising campaign that focused on bra tree legends and encouraged ski lift users to “feed the bra tree”, helping to spread this legend across Canada.
Why is it Only Women’s Underwear?
Women’s underwear is used because that’s how the legend was born. As soon as the first bra went up and a pair of panties followed, it was all about women’s underwear. Then again, the Mardi Gras beads came out of nowhere, so maybe there is a panty tree somewhere that’s full of jockstraps and boxer briefs.
Summary: The Legend of the Panty Tree/Bra Tree
There is a lot of confusion out there regarding bra/panty trees. If you Google these search terms, you’ll see results for everything from angry mothers complaining about promiscuity and the example it sets young girls to people who insist they saw the original tree and know how the tradition started.
As noted above, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this legend and while we’re leaning more toward it being a half-assed (and sexist) 1970s/80s protested, there’s no way to know for sure. Some have even argued that it began back in the 1950s, when riders of a ski lift decorated a tree underneath the lift as a means of protest.
What they were protesting we’re not sure, and they’re not very clear about, but it could also be that this “tradition” actually began independently in several regions and for many reasons.
Maybe someone hastily tossed aside a pair of soiled panties about a night of heavy drinking and was horrified to see them land in a tree. Maybe some fellow skiers saw those panties, thought it was a conquest/protest thing, and then followed suit. Maybe the same thing happened on the other side of the country many years later and for completely different reasons, muddying the origin story.
We’ll probably never know, but the next time you find yourself on a ski lift, keep an eye out for its panty/bra tree and consider making a donation.