SNOWMASS VILLAGE - March is the most unpredictable weather month of ski season with a mixed bag of conditions. Generally it is warmer, which means you could experience rain, heavy wet snow, dry powder or even some thunder snow.
Along with the obvious physical signs of spring, a mountain snowpack changes by the hour and daily. With the sun higher in the sky, the snowpack takes a direct hit. Our snowpack softens during the day, freezes at night and then thaws, transforming the snow into "spring corn," a local favorite.
You will be faced with challenges for the remainder of our season. You can experience frozen waves and hard, fast conditions early, powder conditions on top, slushy wet conditions at the bottom. Skiing varying conditions requires your ability to adapt. However, these conditions will be much easier negotiating while riding modern wide, rocker-shaped skis.
Skiing changing spring snow conditions requires touch and aggressive skiing. Early morning skiing requires touch to navigate the hard frozen snow. Less edge and more steering are required. Too much edge and you are down. As the snow turns to corn, which is the best part of a spring day, carving is the method of choice best described as slicing through cake icing. This is sweet skiing.
As the afternoon temperatures rise, the snow starts to become wet and heavy or slushy. Dive into these piles with the tips of the skis and drive forward, riding it out, always looking for better conditions ahead. Don't panic. Any negative thoughts or doubts will create instant paralysis. Next thing you know, you are in the back seat, accelerating and looking for a spot to land. Don't use the brakes. Throwing your skis sideways could be disastrous. Use the hill to slow down. Hold on to the arch and turn uphill till you control your speed. Tip them up on edge and let the shape slice through the junk. If you are trying to push this stuff out of the way, your day will end early.
Your best hours of opportunity for good snow are between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Follow the sun and catch the snow as it turns to corn. Staying high on the mountain, the snow will be better later in the day. Once the pack gets water logged, it's time to go play golf or go fishing - the fishing and the catching are very good this time of year.
Your equipment might need some adjustments of structure and appropriate spring temperature wax. Structure designed for wet snow channels the water and helps to reduce suction between base and snow surface. Be sure to wipe down your bases at the end of the day to remove any dirt or oil that does percolate to the surface as it gets warmer. You might need to have the oil changed every couple of days and put on fresh wax.
Two serious concerns attached to spring are the sun and dehydration. You'll need the protection of a superior, waterproof and sweat-resistant sunscreen for your face and lips. Even on a cloudy day, 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds. Horrendous sunburns will ruin a good vacation. Make sun-proofing part of your regular daily routine.
A second serious concern that increases as spring gets in gear is dehydration. Experts recommend that travelers and locals alike drink one-half their body weight in ounces of water daily. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you would consume 100 ounces of fluid. It is also recommended to limit caffeine and alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of dehydration. Drinking a six pack of beer is not a substitute for good ole H2O.
Safety is always a top priority, especially in spring with crowded trails, and with a thin base and warm temps of spring, unmarked obstacles surface. Be on your toes and look ahead so you don't ruin expensive equipment. These slushy, grabby snow conditions can wreak havoc on the knees, so be aware that many ACL injuries happen in these conditions. Don't push it, and stay where the snow is good, or just get off the hill when it turns to slush.
Spring is truly a great time. Spring is renewal of life. It revitalizes our spirits and sheds winter "cabin fever." Longer days allow you to ski for a few hours, catch the "corn" and then take a short trip downvalley to golf or go fishing. Life doesn't get any better.
Shop small. See you next run.
Don Jewkes is a 36-year certified PSIA-RM level 3 Teaching Professional and local resident. Support your local independent retailers and restaurants.