It is true that if you get a big dump in those months the skiing is indescribably fantastic. Such conditions are neither guaranteed, or as it has been lately, even likely. More likely the snow will be thin with obstacles abounding, and generally cold enough to hold what little snow exists.
Come Spring and conditions flip. Even in a low snow year like this past season, conditions are at their peak for snow pack, meaning obstacles are either buried or obvious, and the opportunity to ski powder is equal or greater than in the winter. The higher the snowpack prior to the vernal equinox, the better the spring ski touring season.
A look at the wimpy winter of 2015 brings the value of spring skiing in to sharp focus. In the past 40 years the most reliable months to ski powder have been February, March, and April. Lately that has been reduced to March and April, the tail end of winter and the beginning of spring. This year, some of California’s best storms were in May, and in Colorado, at least three feet of snow covered the Rockies above 9,000 feet, and along the Front Range, up to 10 feet fell. California is still in a drought, made marginally less with the late season precipitation, but Colorado received enough snow to dig itself out of water debt and be on par with an average snowpack.
For most skiers, meaning resort skiers, it is too little or too late, but not for backcountry skiers. Spring ski season is the time when the hard core skiers who earn their turns kick it in to high gear. The reasons are compelling.
No matter how deep the snowpack, it’s a good bet it will be at its peak after the sun tilts above the equator. Secondly, with a higher sun come warmer temps, which does melt the snow, but for a season that brings about the transformation to corn snow. Not only is corn snow supremely easy to turn on, it also tends to be immune to avalanching. Finally, with the change of season the days are longer, and sunnier, making extended trips into the backcountry an absolute delight. You need fewer layers, less weight on your back, and lighter, skinnier skis that aren’t a depth trap, but a means to cover more ground. And with a snowpack at it’s peak, there are more places you can ski to.
The 2015 Winter has made those qualities even more apparent. For those who didn’t get enough ski time in this past winter, don’t hesitate. Get out there and make a few more turns, but do keep your avy eyes peeled just in case.