8 Tips for Epic Spring Skiing
The sun is beaming. Snow is melting. While some may be packing away their skis, boots, and poles, there is still much more skiing to be done. With the arrival of spring comes the highly anticipated beginning of spring skiing, highly underrated and incredibly fun.
1. Plan Your Trip around Snow Conditions and Good Deals
Not all resorts stay open into the spring and summer, but most are open in April and many stay open into June and even July. Resorts with the best spring skiing conditions tend to be at higher elevations and to have higher snowfall. Some of the most popular spring skiing destinations in the United States are Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Sun Valley, Breckenridge, Mammoth, Snowbird, Mount Hood, Mount Bachelor, and Arapahoe Basin among many others.
Before booking your trip, make sure to check the snow conditions at these mountains. Look to see how thick the mountain snow base is for the season. A thicker base will mean that more runs can stay open for longer. Check how many chairlifts and runs are open.
Also, take advantage of spring skiing deals. Lift tickets, lodging, and equipment rentals will often be much cheaper in spring than during winter high season. If you are looking to purchase skiing clothing or gear spring is also the best time to do it because of end-of-season sales.
2. Prepare Your Equipment by Waxing and Tuning
Keeping your skis tuned and waxed is important in all seasons, but especially in spring. Keeping your edges sharp will be particularly useful in the icier conditions of morning spring skiing. When the snow is still firm, dull edges will make it challenging for the skis to grip and you will often feel yourself sliding and skidding down the slope. Sharper edges will make it much easier to adapt to firm snow and maintain good control.
Waxing your skis will keep you moving on the heavy and sticky spring snow which is known to slow you down and suction your skis. Special warm temperature waxes are particularly effective in helping skis glide best in spring conditions. While a rub on wax can be helpful for a lap or two, a hot wax is the best way to go for longer lasting benefits. Waxing your skis at a pro shop is usually not too pricey, but if you are a serious skier, investing in a hot iron and your own wax can be worth it. Learning how to wax your own skis is not too difficult and lots of fun.
3. Wear Breathable Layers
Spring skiing is known for fluctuating weather patterns, with bluebird days suddenly turning into storms and freezing mornings transitioning into sweaty afternoons. While temperatures when lifts first open may be in the 20s, the weather will likely warm up during the day, reaching highs of 40 and 50 degrees. Wearing layers is extremely important, allowing you to shed as the temperature increases throughout the day. Plan to bring a backpack to put your extra layers in or find a locker where you can store items throughout the day.
The key to dressing for spring skiing is keeping yourself covered and dry without being too hot. Breathable base layers on the top and bottom will help keep you cool and wick sweat. Shell outer layers are recommended as an alternative to insulated ski coats and pants. Make sure these are waterproof though as spring snow is wetter than fluffy winter snow and non-waterproof gear can easily become soaked through, making you cold. Try to find jackets, pants, and helmets with air vents that can open to allow air flow and cool you down.
It may be tempting to even wear shorts or short sleeves on some of the hottest days. You will certainly see some people on the slopes in a variety of bizarre summer outfits including bikinis and swimsuits. However, this is not recommended. Keeping all of your skin covered is key to protecting your skin if you fall. When bare skin is showing, the snow can cause painful scrapes, cuts, and rashes, like a fall on concrete.
4. Protect Yourself from the Sun
Sun on a ski mountain is a particularly dangerous beast as the sun’s power is essentially doubled when it hits you not only from above but also from below when it reflects off the snow surface. This makes you vulnerable to sun burn very quickly and from all angles. Applying sun screen to the face is extremely important. Also make sure to wear Chapstick that has SPF. Remember to reapply at lunch, or even more frequently. While goggle tans, and this year mask tans, are sometimes a source of pride for skiers to show they’ve been properly shredding all spring, they can also be very painful.
Goggles are very important to protect your eyes while skiing. Goggles are better than sunglasses as they protect your eyes on all sides with full coverage, rather than sunglasses which only protect your eyes from the front. Nonetheless, bring sunglasses with you to wear during lunch or for après ski when you might want to remove your helmet and goggles.
5. Constantly Monitor Snow Conditions
Skiing in spring is the only time that you are allowed, and even encouraged, to sleep in. Trails will be icy in the early morning because of overnight freezing, creating less than ideal conditions. An hour or two after the chairlifts open, the snow will start to soften as morning temperatures rise and the sun starts to hit the mountain. Getting to the mountain around 10am will usually give you the perfect start time to avoid the morning ice. The warm temperatures create an ideal period of corn snow, also known as hero snow, around the period between 10am and 2pm.
Corn snow describes the phenomenon of large frozen snow crystals just beginning to melt, creating a velvety texture. Corn snow is the holy grail of spring skiing as it is very easy to ski and very forgiving. In the late afternoon, the snow passes its ideal texture and becomes slushy. This snow is very moist and heavy, making skiing, turning, and gaining speed very hard work. Try to plan your meals and arrival/departure to take advantage of the ideal conditions in the late morning and early afternoon.
Throughout the day, as you search for the best runs on the mountain, keep your compass, or sense of direction, in hand. Early in the morning, East and South facing slopes are hit by the sun first, allowing the snow there to soften up. Later in the day, when snow that’s been in the sun all day begins to melt, West and North facing slopes will stay firmer for longer, as they have had less sun exposure. In addition, trails that are higher on the mountain will generally stay in better condition longer as colder temperatures hold at higher elevation.
While skiing, be very aware of the snow surface. Avoid brown snow, which usually signals that the snow layer above the ground is very thin and unsuspecting obstacles may be peaking out of the snow. Watch particularly for dirt patches, rocks, and trees. Also look for shady spots. Even a small shadow cast by a tree can create a patch of ice that will send you sliding out of control.
6. Time your Meals and Drink LOTS of Water
In order to maximize your skiing during the middle of the day when snow conditions are the best, have a large late breakfast before you come to the mountain. Bring snacks to eat on the hill and then plan to have a late lunch once the slush arrives.
Carrying plenty of water is especially important during spring skiing when you will likely be hot and sweat a lot. Camelbacks are a great way to carry water on the mountain. Foldable or collapsible water bottles are also very convenient because they can easily be carried in a jacket pocket and will not feel unwieldy as you’re skiing. Because of COVID, many mountains have shut off their water fountains, so bringing your own bottle is especially important if you don’t want to have to buy very expensive water from the resort lodge.
7. Enjoy your Après Ski
The après ski atmosphere really comes alive in the spring when temperatures are warm enough for the festivities to continue after the mountain closes. Many mountains will host a lineup of events including tailgates, live music, parties, pond skims, festivals and much more. While the pandemic will likely limit many of these popular events, the spring weather does provide an opportunity to hang out outdoors. Outdoor dining and drinks which were unappealing in the winter are now a great way to safely spend time with friends after the ski day is over.
8. Carefully Store your Equipment for Next Year
Once you are finished using your skis and boots for the season, it’s time to get them prepped and ready for summer storage. First, wash your skis, including the bindings, to remove any dirt and debris. A spray down with a garden hose works great and a mild detergent can be used on any particularly grimy spots. Get an end of season tune to fix any damage to your edges and bases from the season and a wax to prevent the ski bases from drying out during the off season. Store your skis in a cool, dry location. It’s best to lean your skis somewhere on their sides or standing up. Avoid at all costs old school ski racks where skis hang from their tips on dowel rods, because that kind of pressure can bend your skis.
Before putting your boots away from the summer, take out the liners and make sure to get them completely dried out. A boot warmer works best as opposed to a hairdryer or fireplace as too much heat can warp the plastic lining. Wipe down the boot shells to remove any dirt. Then, store your boots in a cool, dry location with the liners reinserted and the buckles attached loosely so that the boot keeps its shape.
About the Author
Kyra Whitelaw is a rising senior at Stanford University studying Political Science. Originally from New York City, Kyra has been skiing since she was 3 years old at a variety of resorts on the East coast and out West. She is currently on a gap year and living in Kings Beach, California working as a ski instructor at Northstar.