So, I confess, I love true winter conditions. Cold air, cold snow, frosted white trees and even a brisk wind that leaves a touch of frostbite on your face, that lingering kiss to remember the day. Some years those conditions can last right through April, and others, like this one, spring arrives early and you find yourself managing sun exposure and the goggle tan instead of frostbite. The unpredictable nature of any given winter is what makes this sport so compelling. It’s different out there each day, each month, each season. And despite the warm temps this year, the skiing is really amazing if you’re willing to work for it.
Spring snow forces you to think, to pay attention to your elevation, where and when you are starting your day and how the sun is affecting the trails throughout the day. It’s not unlike photography or a game of chess; you’ve got to use your head, your instincts and your experience to get it just right. The stakes are high. With good timing you can find yourself on perfect corn snow where your skis slice effortlessly through a surface similar to caviar, or by arriving on a trail too early you’ll be navigating frozen death cookies, too late and your caviar will have turned into a 7-11 Slurpee, minus the sugar buzz.
So what’s a good day look like? An example is Aspen Mountain where the first thing to soften up is Shadow Mountain, so start your day there at around 10 am and ski the groomed runs that face east (skier’s right). By 11 am, the lower Dumps or Back of Bell are usually soft, or try Lazy Boy to Copper on the upper mountain. Ruthie’s, which is mid-mountain and north facing, softens up around noon. Copper and Gent’s Ridge will be getting soft by 1 pm and the Face of Bell follows after that. As you move past 2 pm, stay off the lower mountain and only go down when you are finished with your day or even consider downloading the lower lifts.
The common strategy for all mountains is lower, east facing runs in the morning, head up to higher east facing and north facing runs around noon, and to the west facing runs after 1 pm. All four mountains face north, so anything that faces to the skiers right is east, straight down to the base is north, and facing down to skier’s left is a western exposure. The exact times that the snow softens will vary based on how cold it was the night before and whether or not there is any cloud cover during the day, but that’s part of the challenge, right? No two days are the same, but if you pay attention and really tune into what the sun is doing, and how it’s affecting the snow, you’ll reap the rewards. And when in doubt ask a Ski Pro, an Ambassador or a Patroller – they’re out there every day and love to share what’s working.
Happy Spring and remember: never cross seasons, winter is short enough!