Spring is arguably the best time of year for skiing. Not only are there frequent opportunities to ski deep powder as spring storms roll through the high country, but the longer days and sunny weather can yield exceptional corn skiing and slushy spring turns. It’s also just a great time of year to ski with friends, enjoy the sun down at the base area, and imbibe in the last few days of the season as you look toward summer. That said, capitalizing on spring conditions can be challenging if you’re new to skiing, or you typically only ski in midwinter conditions. If that’s you, here are a few essential hacks to help you get the best possible snow conditions this spring.
Timing is Everything
The same things that make spring skiing great (powder, corn, sunshine, etc.) also make it wildly variable and ever-evolving. To help put it into perspective, I have experienced some of the best and worst ski conditions within just a few hours of each other during spring. That’s because as the days get longer, the effects of the sun become more pervasive on almost every aspect of the mountain. This is why timing is so critical if you’re trying to score the best possible conditions on any given day.
Spring powder skiing is generally synonymous with storm day skiing. That’s because as soon as the storm clears, the sun takes its toll and quickly turns all that buttery spring pow to a heavy, wet mank. Basically, you’re going to have a difficult (if not impossible) time lucking out with bluebird powder conditions days after the last storm once spring rolls around. My advice for spring powder skiing is to arrive early, get after it while conditions are good, and be ready to pull the plug once temperatures start to climb and conditions turn too heavy and wet to make a decent turn. Timing is also essential if you’re trying to ski the second best ski condition: corn.
Follow the Sun
The other prime spring ski condition is corn. As the snowpack goes through a series of melt-freeze cycles, it becomes isothermal, or homogenous, throughout its entire depth. This results in some phenomenal skiing as the surface of the snow begins to soften under the spring sun. That said, there are a few ingredients you need for good corn skiing. The first is an isothermal snowpack that’s gone through a series of melt-freeze cycles. Second, you need a solid refreeze the night before, otherwise your skis will punch through the snow and it will not be supportable. Last, you need direct sunlight and above-freezing temperatures to soften the snow and make it edgeable.
With all three ingredients in place, it then becomes a simple matter of lining up the aspect you ski with the angle of the sun to get the best corn conditions. As the sun rises, the first slopes to soften are east facing. Any other aspects first thing in the morning will remain frozen and miserable for skiing. Then, as the sun moves around the dial, each aspect will soften. This is why I’ll generally ski east-facing runs first thing in the morning, transition to south-facing runs as the angle of the sun shifts, then move on to west- and north-facing runs once the more solar aspects become too loose and wet to ski safely.
Please note: it’s generally considered poor etiquette to ski slopes that have been in the sun too long and can even be dangerous. Not only is the skiing not great, since your skis will sink deep into the heavy, wet snow, but it will take days for your tracks to melt off the slope, ruining that line for other skiers for days after it was skied.
Fallback on Groomers
There’s no reason to end your season with an injury. And skiing heavy, wet snow too late in the day or bulletproof ice too early in the morning are both good ways to get hurt. If you’re out there skiing on a spring day, and either the wind is preventing the snow surface from softening up too much, or there just wasn’t a good enough refreeze the night before to keep the surface supportable, it’s never a bad idea to just stick to groomers. Chances are they’ll be compacted enough to ski reasonably well until it starts to warm up and the snow gets sticky. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a good sunny day spent laying high-speed turns down fast, smooth groomers?
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
This is a good rule of thumb with skiing in general, but it’s especially true once spring rolls around. After a long winter of being wrapped up in layers and stifling ski jackets, spring is a great time to cut loose, shed a few unnecessary layers, and ski in a T-shirt, flannel, or your grandparent’s old one-piece ski suit. I tend to call it a day around one o’clock most spring days, pull up a lawn chair down in the lot, and kick back in a pair of flip-flops. But if you’re feeling a bit more motivated, it’s also that rare time of year when you can score morning corn on your skis and brown pow on your bike—if you time it right. Bottom line: have fun and enjoy the season for what it is!