The spring corn harvest is an exciting time to be a skier. When the snowpack goes isothermic, big summit descents and steep couloirs start to edge their way back onto the table. Sure, powder skiing is fun, but making turns up high in April and May is what most backcountry skiers are biding their time for. Whether you’re in pursuit of the pucker factor on big alpine lines or just looking to make some soul turns through some creamy corn skiing, here are a few tips on nailing your spring ski mission.
Timing perfect corn isn’t easy, and in steep ranges like the Tetons, the window for edge-able yet smeary snow can be short during warm spring days. Calculate the time you want to drop in and work backwards from there. You may end up with an approach almost fully in the dark but it’s always better to top out when conditions are firm and wait a few minutes for things to soften than having to bail because the slope turned to mank.
Skin wax saves marriages
Skin glopping is a quick way to turn a pleasant approach into a slog from hell. A bar of skin wax (different than ski wax) is an inexpensive way to save the day, small and compact enough to keep on hand every day throughout the spring. That being said, once you start glopping there’s no going back until your skins fully dry out, so it’s most effective if you apply it at the trailhead even if you think you might not need it. If you don’t have skin wax and find yourself with infuriating clumps stuck to the bottom of your skis, you can rub or spray sunscreen on them and it should work just as well, although may not be ideal for the integrity of your skins.
Spikes are your friend
During a spring melt-freeze cycle, frozen uptracks often turn into an ice rink and skinning turns into a full body experience. Ski crampons forfeit any sort of glide, but when you factor in energy wasted while trying to stay upright on a bulletproof skintrack, it almost always pays off. They weigh nothing (100-ish grams) and slide into your toe piece in just a few seconds so you can pop them in and out whenever you need them. Clipping ski crampons to a waist belt makes it easy to deploy them in an instant when the going gets firm. If you plan on ascending steeper terrain, boot crampons and an ice axe are key pieces of equipment for climbing firm spring snow. A lightweight ice axe and a pair of aluminum crampons don’t weigh much and can be the difference of a pleasant bootpack or a slide for life.
Spring skiing is a sweaty endeavour. While I have to force myself to drink water in the winter, come springtime I find myself frantically guzzling. Adding a tab of Nuun to a small water bottle does wonders for my energy towards the end of the day, especially electrolytes with a little caffeine boost.
Trade that crunchy Gore-Tex kit for softshells and you’ll notice a sharp decrease in the day’s overall swamp factor. Massive temperature swings in the spring usually mean chilly temps in the morning followed by tank top weather midday, so opting to start a little chilly sans baselayers can pay out for comfort in the afternoon. A sun hoody and wraparound sunglasses are two pieces of invaluable spring ski gear that protect against a long day of exposure above treeline.
Even though persistent weak layers are often off the table come springtime, wet slides can still be incredibly destructive and fatal, especially in no-fall terrain. This usually means getting off solar aspects much earlier than you might expect. Spring storms still pose real hazards (especially when they’ve fallen on firm, icy surfaces) so don’t get lulled into a false sense of security when the base goes isothermic. If your local avy center stops reporting, stay tuned into the weather and keep making observations like you would midwinter.
Try a naked lap
No, that’s not a typo. Cruising through sunny spring corn in your birthday suit is the perfect opportunity to welcome the warmer months, a liberating feeling that every skier should enjoy as much as possible. It goes without saying, but stick to mellower terrain if you plan to drop trow for a lap unless you’re a nude skiing veteran. A wipeout on isothermic snow will definitely leave a mark.
Stock the parking lot
Spring parking lot tailgates are one of the best parts of the sport. Stash a chair, cooler and flip flops at the trailhead and be ready to stay a while to bask in the glory of your epic day.