Ah, spring skiing! Many of the fondest memories are made at this magical time of the season. After a long winter of flat light, hand warmers, too many sweaters, and drives home in the dark, the first signs of spring are finally peaking through. The days are longer, the sun is higher and stronger, and it's finally time to shed all those layers.Outside, the atmosphere ramps up as music fills the air, and the irresistible smells of barbecue and drinks fill outdoor patios to capacity. The dreaded winter ice on the trails finally begins to disappear, and is replaced by soft, spring snow. What more could you want?
Alas, not everyone likes spring skiing. Everyone likes the warm sun and rising temperatures, but there are many aspects that seem to cause complaints. Spring skiing can indeed be a matter of taste, but the tips below will help maximize your spring skiing experience, and ensure that you enjoy your time out on the slopes.
1. Ski at the time of day that has your preferred conditions. During spring skiing season, conditions tend to be hard and icy. The groomer passes the evening before when the temperature is still warm, and the grooming sets and freezes overnight. Similarly, ungroomed trails and glades freeze up in the wee hours. As the day progresses, the sun and warming temperature softens the base into "corn" snow, which is much softer, heavier, and tends to form small moguls on trails.
If you prefer hard and fast conditions, plan on skiing in the morning. Many people find heavy spring snow and moguls difficult to ski, so in this case it's best to ski earlier and spend the later hours of the ski day sitting outdoors and soaking up the spring atmosphere.
Similarly, for people who do not like hard-packed icy conditions, it's best to wait until later to head out. The base tends to transform generally around mid-morning to lunchtime, so if you like the soft, squishy snow, you'll have the most fun later in the day.
2. If you have different pairs of skis, make your choice wisely.Those who have skied on different types of skis know that they make all the difference. Slalom or racing skis are great when conditions are groomed and hard, but become a burden if you have to use them in moguls or heavy snow. Similarly, all-mountain or twin-tip skis are great for powder, uneven terrain, or mounds of snow, but lack precision and the strength necessary to ski well on hard snow.
If you have all-mountain skis or something similar, these are the best option for spring skiing days. These types of skis are less stiff and easier to move around, which makes turning around moguls and going over small lumps of snow much easier. Slalom, GS, or racing skis are difficult to turn on-the-fly, and their strength makes it easier to drive them into piles of snow, causing you to get stuck. Not only is this unpleasant when skiing, it's also dangerous.
If you're able to bring two different pairs of skis to the hill, this is the best scenario - carving skis for the morning until the temperature warms up, and all-mountain skis when the snow softens.
3. Bring different layers of clothing. One of the biggest challenges of spring skiing is knowing what to wear. There's nothing worse than being cold in the morning because you wore your spring jacket, or sweating bullets in the afternoon because you have only a heavy fleece balaclava to wear under your helmet. Even if you think you know what the temperature will be, make sure to pack plenty of different layers. Sometimes, depending on wind and sun, the temperature can feel different than what's on the thermometer. Bring a few different sweaters of different thicknesses, so you can wear a thicker one in the morning and change in the afternoon. If you're bringing your spring jacket, make sure you have your winter one as well, or plenty of extra sweaters to wear underneath if it's colder than expected.
There's nothing worse than frozen or sweaty hands, so bring different pairs of gloves - your regular winter ones for the morning, with lighter-weight gloves or liners for the afternoon. Bonus points if your gloves have built-in liners; that way, there's no need to remember to bring different pairs. Also, have different types of balaclavas on hand - fleece ones tend to be warmer and cover more area, whereas cotton or neoprene ones are lighter and have less material. A skullcap is also a good option if you don't think you'll need any face or neck covering. Sunglasses are good to have if you don't want to wear your goggles.
4. Bring extra things to change into and some towels/rags. When skiing in the spring, everything tends to get very wet. Ice drips off the chairlifts, the chair seats are wet, and snow sloshes up onto your lower legs while skiing. At the end of the day, having to wear these wet ski clothes home can be uncomfortable, and even more so if the moisture soaked through to your underlayer. If this bothers you and you have a long ride home, bring some dry clothes or a different jacket to wear.
Skiing, and especially spring skiing, can be messy. Skis and boots are covered in water and wet snow, and unpaved ski hill parking lots can be wet, slushy, and muddy. Having towels to put in the trunk of your car prevents your gear from leaking everywhere, and some old newspapers to put in the foot wells prevents mud and slush from making a mess. Rags are also useful to clean things off before putting them in the car. It's actually good to keep these things on hand for the entire season.
4. Stay safe! As the temperature warms and the sun feels nice on our faces, it's very tempting to leave that helmet behind and ski bare-headed. Don't do this! Not wearing a helmet greatly increases the risk of head trauma after a fall or collision, and the risk of injury is actually higher during spring skiing because the surface is more difficult to ski and less predictable. Especially during early-spring skiing, people are not accustomed to these types of surfaces, and unfamiliarity breeds increased risk and potential danger. The reward of warmth on your head is not worth it if you end up in the hospital or worse. If you must, take a break to absorb some rays, or remove your helmet for the ride up the chairlift.
As mentioned before, during spring skiing the surface and snow are unpredictable. Depending on the sun and temperature, the base can change from soft and corny, to hard and icy, all on the same trail! It's important to ski more slowly and cautiously than usual, especially if you're not used to this type of skiing. Even if you're comfortable with spring skiing, it pays to be more careful, since your skis can easily get stuck in heavy wet snow, causing you to lose momentum or pitch forward. It's best to sit further back on your skis rather than upright as you would on hard groomed trails in mid-winter, because this will give you more stability.
5. Wear sunscreen! Many people underestimate the strength of the sun when skiing in the spring. Everyone likes tomatoes, but it's not fun when you go home looking like one. Make sure to put sunscreen on your face if you're skiing in the spring and it's sunny. The sun in March is as strong as the sun in September, meaning it's easy enough to get a nasty burn. Also, the sun reflects off the surface of the snow, which makes it even stronger - it's like using aluminum foil to tan in the old days.
6. If you have equipment to buy, now's the time. Ski stores are looking to clear out their inventory at this time of year, making for great sales on everything from clothing to skis and boots. Sure, you might buy something and not be able to use it next year, but you'll benefit from prices that are up to 50% reduced from normal. For things like skis, the design usually doesn't change much from year to year, so buying the current model now rather than next year's model in the Fall isn't a big deal, and you'll enjoy big savings.
Overall, spring skiing is one of the best times of year to ski; the temperature is more comfortable, there is usually plenty of snow, and the sun energizes and warms after a long winter.There are some pitfalls, however, which can leave you feeling uncomfortable if you aren't well prepared. By planning in advance and bringing the correct equipment and clothes, this can largely be avoided. As always, but especially during spring when we're inclined to ski more and later into the day, it's important to respect your limits and know when it's time to stop. Keeping these ideas in mind, there's no reason this time of year shouldn't be your favourite!