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Secrets of Spring Skiing

Warmer temperatures and longer days mean for some great skiing. Ditch some of the layers, get some tanning butter and don your shades. This is the time to ski for fun.

That’s not to say winter can’t rear its head once more. Be prepared for the worst, as always.

A great interview from someone who knows their stuff Brion O’Connor, “The biggest attraction to spring skiing is the intangibles,” said Ben Brosseau, a ski instructor and guide at Big Sky Resort in Montana. “It’s the atmosphere created by the longer days and warmer temperatures. There’s a rather primal intuition for us to emerge from the colder months and start soaking up the day with fewer layers, sunglasses and a cold beverage.”

“Spring can see a wide spectrum of conditions, anywhere from firm or ‘bulletproof’ to late season powder,” said Brosseau. “Spring skiing is at its finest with a melting surface layer on a well-established base.

“Corn snow is associated with spring skiing and usually the most desirable. It’s smooth, forgiving, and predictable,” he said. “However, oftentimes there are less appealing conditions we must inevitably navigate. Icy. Chunky. Heavy and dense snow that resembles mashed potatoes or wet cement. Not to mention, obstacles and thin cover that has been exposed from the melting snow.”

You are going to go from ice to slush and everything in between. Icy in the morning, soupy in the afternoon.

In another section he interviewed Terry Barbour of Sugarbush Resort in Vermont.

“In the spring, it’s smart to take a leisurely breakfast and then head to the mountain,” said Barbour. “Give the sun a chance to soften the snow. Go for those East-facing trails first and then follow the sun around the mountain.

“The groomers are your best bet first thing,” he said. “Then, as the sun does it’s magic, start playing in the cream-cheese conditions it creates. Cream cheese is when the top 2 inches of snow softens and it can be amazing skiing. Pure silk.”

As far as your skiing style, Broussau suggests you mix it up a bit.

“Shoulders over the hips, hips over the feet, preferably, balance over the arch of the foot,” he said. “Give yourself room to shift and absorb through the front of the boot without over-compensating with the upper body. A stacked position over the feet can also allow for edge angle management, rather than being stuck on an over-edged ski.

“A tightened core equals a strong upper body position,” said Brosseau. “Combine that with hands up and elbows in front of the torso, and you’ve got a quiet and stable upper body while most of the activity is efficiently taking place in the legs. Be adaptable, not defensive.”

Morning ice has some fun names – Frozen granular, death cookies, frozen chicken heads. All require a head-on, deliberate approach.

“Be very deliberate with both feet,” Barbour said. “Steer and aim both feet where you want to go. A lazy foot or ski will get yanked around and knock you off balance. Enter the turn tips first – do not shove your tails.”

Base layers are still important,” said Brosseau. “Lighten the R-value (insulation) with a thinner performance layer. The bulky, mid-winter down coat can go back in the closet.

“Instead, use a light insulator layer that you can easily shed and store away mid-day,” he said. “Use a hard shell jacket over the insulator layer to start the morning. Wind-breaker material and a hood that fits over the helmet goes along way during the breezy days.”

As the temps rise, ventilation becomes an imperative.

“Recreational ski helmets have vents that open and close,” said Brossseau. “Most outerwear jackets have vents in the armpits and ski pants have them along the inner or outer thigh that zip open and close. That’s an extremely helpful feature for the warmest days.

“Sweaty hands in thick gloves are never comfortable, and that just feels gross,” he said. “Get some spring gloves, preferably waterproof.” More tips to stay comfortable.

Remember, skiing is still work. Combined with warmer temperatures, it’s easy to overheat. So Barbour recommends drinking plenty of water.

“Beer and coffee do not count as hydration,” Barbour said. “Use sunscreen liberally, applying several times a day.”

Sunglasses are a must. Goggles can get hot and uncomfortable for some skiers. Polarized sunglasses are a terrific lightweight option.

If you boil it down to these rules of thumb, you have a plan for your ski trip.

  1. Sleep in a bit. Let the sun and temps do their work.
  2. Know which direction the slope you are on faces. Ski East slopes first, about 30 minutes after the sun hits it.
  3. Move on BEFORE it gets too slushy. Move to South facing slopes to get better snow.
  4. Lunch is your finish line facing West. Tables in the sun go early. Plan ahead.
  5. If you are going off-piste, look for corn snow for the best ride.

Some truly well thought out advice. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

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