Successful Springtime Backcountry Skiing
Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, so planning ahead, bringing the right gear, and timing your trip wisely can assure the best experience.
Perfect corn snow is almost as much fun as bottomless powder but nailing the window of opportunity between dangerously icy conditions and soupy slush – which is susceptible to dangerous wet slides – can be hard to time.
Harvesting fresh snow after spring storms can also be a delicate task when warm temps and intense sun can quickly turn bottomless pow sticky, heavy, unstable, or crusty.
11 Tips Guaranteed to Make your Spring Backcountry Ski Experience as Pleasant as Possible:
- WAX YOUR SKIS. Whether you’re booting or skinning to access the goods, it’s a no brainer to prepare your bases for warm, wet conditions. If you can afford it, visiting a shop for a base grind, warm weather structure, and warm weather wax is ideal. At the very least, iron a mix of any common yellow and red ski waxes and give your skis a quick scrape.
- WATERPROOF YOUR SKINS and BRING SKIN WAX: Attempting to skin through fresh snow on a warm day can result in one of the most frustrating and exhausting experiences: massive clods of snow building up on your skins. Applying a waterproofing agent to the hairy side of your skins before heading will work wonders. Having a bar of skin wax in your pack is always a good idea, and applying it heavily as soon as you start to get any snow buildup is a wise decision. Glop Stopper from Black Diamond is an excellent option, but a bar of Paraffin “candle/canning” wax works just as well at a fraction of the cost. That Paraffin could also come in handy if you need to get a fire going in cold/wet conditions.
- GREASE YOUR TOPSHEETS: Though not quite as annoying as gloppy skins, sticky snow can build up on your topsheets as well. Modern fat skis and snowboards have a lot of surface area, and when conditions are just wrong you may find yourself perpetually stomping and scraping to remove ever-growing mounds from your topsheets. Applying a little car wax, furniture polish, or spray-on ski wax to your topsheets the night before a potentially sticky skin can work wonders.
- BRING SUN SCREEN and EXTRA SUNGLASSES: self-explanatory. Extra glasses or goggles are always a great addition to your backcountry pack.
- DRINK MORE WATER: Most people don’t drink enough fluids while playing in the backcountry, and it’s especially easy to get dehydrated on those sunny spring ski days when the snow reflects so much energy from below that it can feel like being in an oven. Drink water on the way to the trailhead and bring at least one 32 oz. bottle of fluid in your pack. Remember: if you’re not peeing clear you’re not seeing clear.
- GET AN EARLY START: Whether you’re looking for perfect corn or hoping to capitalize on freshies from a spring storm, the early bird usually gets the worm. Sleeping in is great, but not if that means you’ll have to watch perfect pow get zapped into heavy mush while you’re still on your way up the mountain. Whether it has snowed recently or not, wet slides are a serious concern in the spring, so it’s always better to take in the scenery while waiting for things to soften up than to get a late start and find oneself racing against the sun.
- LAYER CLOTHES WISELY and STAY DRY: Being stuck with damp clothes can kill in the mountains, and it’s never very much fun to sweat profusely, so it’s wise to minimize sweating during any ski tours. On those sunny spring days, it’s especially easy to get greasy, so proper layering is crucial. If you’ve stripped down to a t-shirt but are still sweating, consider taking off your pants. With a little practice it’s surprisingly easy to slip out of a pair of ski pants — without even stepping off your skis — by removing one boot at a time and using your poles for balance. If you’ve never climbed a mountain in nothing but your undies, let me assure you it’s a very liberating experience.
- BRING A WARM COAT (even if you don’t need it): You’ll be glad packed a puffy coat or heavy shell if you get lost, injured, or benighted for some other reason. Also, even something as simple as a few clouds rolling in can turn that warm sunny day into a cold, windy nightmare rather quickly. Freezing to death would suck, so don’t ever venture out into the mountains unprepared.
- WATCH OUT FOR VARIABLE SNOW CONDITIONS: It’s amazing how different the snow can be on different aspects, slope angles, or because of the shade from a few trees. Sometimes, you’ll find perfect corn, scary crust, and creamy goodness within the matter of a few turns, so pay attention to snow conditions during the ascent and you’ll have less surprises on the way down. Also, avalanche debris and other compacted snow may be rock solid long after other snow has softened up. Don’t go barreling through a debris pile unless you’re absolutely sure that those clumps aren’t crusty.
- STASH YOUR CELEBRATORY BEERS IN A SNOWBANK: They’ll probably get hot if you leave them in the car. Better still, ride your bike to the slopes and save your gas money for the bar.
- IF IT WAS GOOD TODAY GO SKIING AGAIN TOMORROW: If you find yourself losing stoke for spring skiing, just remember: Life is short, Summer is long, and Backcountry Skiing is as good as it gets.
If you’ve never climbed a mountain in nothing but your undies, let me assure you it’s a very liberating experience.”
Life is short, Summer is long, and Backcountry Skiing is as good as it gets.”