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IS A SLIDING SPORT":
is in italics here because spring snow can occur any time of year when
conditions are right,
Springtime skiing. Springtime has advantages for skiers. Shortly after Easter, the crowds thin even though fewer resorts are open. Snowfalls may be deeper, making for the best powder skiing, and the snow itself may be heavier, its density giving a more-cushioned base that adds to the sensation of floating. The pack will be at its deepest, too, covering many of the rocks and stumps and logs that had to be avoided earlier in the year. Mid-day during warmer times, the snow surface will be wet, giving an automatic governor to speed and making good conditions for learning to ski steeper slopes and moguls. And--best of all for some--the days are more likely to be sunny and warm, inviting picnics at ridgetops, and allowing fewer layers of restrictive clothing. On sunny days, the sun will come up earlier and go down later, giving not only longer skiing days but fewer challenges from flat light.
Spring weather, spring snow, and the spring snowpack: The spring season starts March 21 in the mountains--the same as it does at lower altitudes. But spring looks different up high. There will be no flowers or green grass, and the deciduous trees will not leaf out for months. Skiing goes on at many ski areas into June and a few ski areas in Colorado, California, Oregon, and Canada operate well into the summer or even all summer long. Snowstorms are likely to dump snow in springtime, and in the Rockies more snow will fall on average that month than in any other of the year. But temperatures when it does fall are more likely to be warm, and the snow wetter than earlier in the year. Between storms, days are often sunny and because days are longer now than in mid-winter, heat builds up in the snowpack until melting begins.
During intervals between storms, the snow at first melts in the sunny days, meltwater entering the spaces among the crystals of the pack. This water freezes again in the cold nights, producing a surface that becomes increasingly hard and even icy with each passing cloudless day. The pack lowers in height, too, compacting. Should a drier weather spell continue for several days or a few weeks, this melting/refreezing process causes the snow crystals to begin losing their delicate arms, columns, and dendrites, and then some of them give up their moisture to others. Thus the remaining crystals grow, and become rounder, until they begin to resemble kernels of corn and are then called "corn" snow. Finally, the pack becomes dense enough, at about 55% water content for a given volume, that it begins to "leak" its contained water into the ground below or into zones of transmission that course through the snowpack, marked by linear indentations running down the pack's surface. A near-final stage is when enough of the contained water has been transmitted that only a skeleton framework remains in the snowpack (is this the osteoporosis phase), and the snowpack can no longer support the weight it once did. Skiers may drop through such snow onto whatever is below, for its consistency is much like that of a rotten apple, and it has the name "rotten snow". Skiing it may be impossible, so it should be watched out for in late spring or summer and avoided.
Thunderstorms are moving cells of moist air that has been heated over areas (bare ground, beaches, lakes) that reflect the sun's heat more than surrounding areas such as forests. Or they form with weather changes as air masses waft upward on mountain chains. These storms are. more likely to occur in the mountains in springtime than in winter, for there is more heat available for a longer time to form them. They often come with lightning hitting ridgelines and other high points, causing lifts to be evacuated and closed until the hazard of a strike hitting a lift line subsides. If you are out at such a time, get indoors if you can and stay there, for many ski area buildings have lightning protection systems. But if you cannot reach such shelter, move down from high points and lift lines, avoid tall trees, and separate your party so if one is stunned, others will not be and can assist. It might be prudent to remove skis and poles, too, to minimize the amount of attached metal. At lower altitudes thunderstorms may produce rain or hail, but in the higher mountains in springtime, thunderstorms are more likely to generate soft hail, or "graupel", also called tapioca or pellet snow for its appearance as little beads. Thunderstorms can cause temperatures to fall rapidly and drastically, as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thus spring in the mountains is a season great variation. Some years see low temperatures almost as cold as the coldest of the more frigid months. Some years see much snowfall and some years see hardly any or none. Some snowstorms come in cold and some come in warm. Some snows are cold powder and some are slushy mushes or ice--with everything in between. Rain is a possibility.
Spring skiing adaptations: Spring conditions give variety to the skiing, too, adding to the interest level of the sport as adaptations of skiing technique are made to manage new situations. Two such situations are covered elsewhere: Skiing Powder and Skiing Hard Snow/Ice. Here we will describe skiing wet spring snow.
In many ways, skiing wet spring snow uses much the same techniques as skiing powder and skiing hard snow/ice, for the skis in wet snow must track in a progressive arc else they will turn from that line too much and be slowed excessively, for the wet snow sucks on the skis' bases. This is due to capillarity, the same force that causes water in a narrow tube to wet the tube's sides above the standing level of the water. The round turn is the solution, used the same as in so many other skiing situations, but with more care to progressive loading of pressure onto and off the skis, balancing pressure on them somewhat equally, evenly managing the edging, and applying turning forces consistently. Once again, we find a use for the round turn, or even a carved turn. Interestingly, good skiers enjoy wet snow, finding it reveals little nuances in their technique they were not aware of and need to refine. Even more than powder skiing, skiing wet snow is like water skiing.
Equipment for wet spring snow: Because wet spring snow is softer snow, we may want to use a ski that has a softer flex, too, so that it bends more and will turn us by itself with less steering from us, thus allowing a cleaner track as the tail of each of our skis follows that ski's tip around our arcs. Sometimes the wet snow sucks on our skis excessively. Then is the time to wax the skis' bases, using a soft, warm-snow wax (often red or yellow in color but sometimes gray, black, or silver). Some apply the wax by marking Xs on the skis/ bases, theorizing that helps break the capillarity suck. Boots may need to rebuckled more tightly if the weather is warm, for their plastic can soften with heat, yet it is vital that there not be slack between boot and foot so that precision turns can be made. Clothing in warm weather gets interesting, with T-shirts and shorts and even bikinis replacing our "Michelan-man" insulated look of winter. But a fall on wet spring snow in skimpy attire can result in a skin raspberry, for the edges of the larger snow grains, or corn, can be rough. Gloves should be worn, too, to protect the hands in the event of a fall, and lighter "spring" gloves are available. Keep in mind, also, that weather can change rapidly in the mountains ("If you don't like the weather in the mountains, wait 5 minutes--it will change"). If you are riding a lift when the weather changes to cold and wind, you could be very uncomfortable, especially if the lift stops for awhile. Consider carrying goggles even on a sunny day; thunderstorms come up quickly. And have dark glasses on or with you as always. Sunscreen on exposed flesh is likewise always wise at altitudes because of the lesser air above to screen out harmful rays. Sunburning can be especially hazardous in spring in the mountains if a sunny day following a storm when the little snowflakes still have high reflectivity from their delicate parts. Too, you may sweat more and need to replace the water lost; many now carry water with them in water backpacks with tubes to suck on , or bottles.
Springtime driving: Should you drive to the snowfields in springtime, be aware that road conditions can also vary. Melted snow can run onto the pavement and freeze into slicks at night but only be in patches and where you might not expect it. And wet snows give far less traction than dry ones. (Similar conditions occur in the autumn, 'though to a lesser degree because the weather is drier then and the ground may not yet be frozen so it can still accept the melting snow.) These situations have caught many unsuspecting skiers. Avoid being among them!
A final word: Eventually, after selecting the tactic to apply, you must "Point the skis down the hill; let them buck; the mountain will teach you!"
Contents of "TACTICS FOR TERRAINS and SNOW
TEXTURES and RACING":
This "Skiing Spring Snow" page last modified June 30, 2019. Did you come here from a link on another website? For latest version of this page, copy to your browser: http://www.SkiMyBest.com/skisprin.htm. Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019. William R Jones.