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Mar 31 2014

Awesome April is here

 

Spring skiing extends the season - even with pow pow.

Spring skiing extends the season —
even with pow pow. CTE

This is the time of year when the wannabes fall away. Spring – when the snow alternates within hours from cold smoke to mashed potatoes. It’s the time of year when it’s icy in the morning, velvet corn in the afternoon. With the right conditions the weather warms for the day while the sun blazes and bakes the snow through blue skies then freezes solid under a dark starlit night. The melt-freeze cycle causes the snow to bond to itself and the avy lizard is frozen in its tracks, unable to wreak havoc.

It is also the time when most skiers stop skiing. They think the snow is too slushy. Bunch o’ powder puffs who only see value in one type of snow. I’ll admit sloppy seconds in spring under the lifts isn’t quite the same thrill as powder, but powder is fleeting and given a choice between frozen ice between storms in the winter, chopped up crud, or soft mashed potatoes in spring I’ll take soft snow over hard any time, winter, spring, summer or fall. For those who avoid spring slush, just know you’re also missing out on velvet corn in shorts and T-shirts.

Now, if you’re ready to hike a bit and get away from the crowds, a task made all the easier in spring, slush is not the norm, nor is it a negative when it’s smooth and untracked. This is especially true when you’re harvesting the final lap of a day’s worth of planting turns in corn snow.

Low Avy Danger

There are plenty of other reasons to love spring skiing. As mentioned above, avalanche danger is typically very low – even non-existent if you’re not on a glacier. I’m being only somewhat facetious when I suggest using those batteries in a walkman instead of your beacon, but then, walkman’s are dead school and MP3 players don’t use AAA’s. In the absence of a recent storm, a key part of spring conditions, avalanche danger, can be crossed off the list of objective hazards.

It is primarily for this reason that newbies looking to earn their turns should spend as much time in the mountains as they can in the spring. Exposure garners experience, which after living through enough close calls in relatively benign conditions gives you wisdom, not necessarily because you are smart, but it lets you recognize with humility your insignificance to the forces at work in nature. It makes you appropriately cautious while you’re busy being bold.

Better Weather

Rober' scrapes off a layer of Baldy corn, early 90s.

Rober’ scrapes off a layer of Baldy corn, early 90s.

There are other benefits to spring skiing. The weather is nicer. I don’t mind skiing in a storm but skiing on a warm, sunny day is a whole lot easier to enjoy, especially with friends. You don’t have to be all bundled up and careful every time you need to adjust something. Gloves can stay in the pack on the ascent, and your pack can be lighter without extra layers.

On the otherhand, perhaps the pack will be heavier thanks to a bottle of wine and a gourmet lunch to enjoy on the summit while soaking in the sun. Sounds terrible, right? Oh, and did I mention the ego corn snow you’ll have to ride on the way back down? If you’re late, it turns to slush, but even untracked mush can be pretty delightful when you have the whole slope to yourself in the backside of beyond.

No Crowds

Sierra corn. Not as fluffy as pow, but equally delightful. Photo by John Dittli.

Sierra corn. Not as fluffy as pow, but equally delightful. Photo by John Dittli.

Which is another thing that benefits in-bounds skiers, and based on the number of boots at trailheads these days, backcountry skiers too – the absence of crowds. You can always leave the crowd behind by leaving the motors behind and heading to the top. Once you’re in the groove on a skin track, with that delightful mix of grip and glide that spring snow provides, the climb up becomes its own reward. In spring, you can see the world open up all around you as you get higher. Bluebird powder days may be epic, but they are fleeting while spring vistas and corn snow can almost be scheduled.

In the northern hemisphere, April is the month the spring skiing blooms. Sometimes it’s early April, like this year (2013/14), sometimes it bleeds into May, like the 10-11 season.

More Snow

Snowpack is near max in April, in big years and low years. Why then, does the ski industry promote skiing in December? Jingle bells is synonymous with Santa Claus and cash flow, even with low snow.

Historial snow records show snowpack is near max in April, in big years and low years. Why then, does the ski industry promote skiing in December? Jingle bells is synonymous with Santa Claus and cash flow, even with low snow.

Spring is when snow-depth is maxed. It might even grow deeper in April, but by the end of the month, the sun will wax warmer with each passing day to set the season’s limit before transforming the bounty of powder into the liquid of life that runs to the sea.

Spring is a season of contrasts. While the virtues of corn snow and spring weather are worth experiencing in themselves, there is another secret of spring that wannabes will never know. Secret powder. There’s always at least one storm that comes through to separate the corn harvests and extend the season, not just with a filling in of the surface, but oftentimes a downright cold and devilishly deep storm that makes you wish you had a snorkle. It won’t last long, but if you are out there, or primed to strike while circumstances allow it, the payback is doubly rewarding, partly because so few others were able to revel in it.

Skiing top to bottom

There is another element to skiing in spring that I’d be remiss to not mention, at least, in every spring tour I’ve ever been on. It’s a simple but silly game that we all tend to get sucked in to. In the winter you can often ski right to the door of your car, wherever that may be. In spring, that isn’t as likely, but still you want to eek out as many turns as you can ’til the snow runs out. So, while I agree with Ruedi Beglinger that it is always good form to abide by the principle that “we ski from the top and the top is the summit,” in the spring, we ski to the bottom, and the bottom is mud.

If you can appreciate that last sentiment ‘cuz you just love skiing, then welcome to an Awesome April, spring touring season is here.

© 2014
 

  • teletilyouresmelly

    hear hear!

  • Herb Manning

    I agree. It’s all good until a spring dust storm coats everything though.