There’s no denying it – we’re headed into the final weeks of the 2013-14 ski season. After last season’s consistently snowy conditions, this year was marked by highs and lows. Rather than being able to typify it as a dry (or snowy) winter, we went through a snow-heavy November and December, a teeth-chatteringly frigid stretch in January followed by the worst January thaw in memory, and some decent shots of snow heading into spring.
Now all the good and bad ski days fade into a hazy memory and we break out the golf clubs and bid the season adieu. But first we get to have a last hurrah with spring skiing – arguably the best time of the season. As such, now’s the time to provide a few tips for making the most of it.
• Take your time. Typically, I’m among the folks who are in line for first tracks when the lifts open. My weekly ritual involves a 5 a.m. wake-up in southern Maine so I can get on my skis before many people have even left home. However, this strategy can falter at the end of the season. It often gets cold enough overnight that the slopes firm up or freeze solid, making for rough conditions early in the morning. Take the time for that extra cup of coffee while the sun softens things up.
(The exception to the rule is the rare late-season snowstorm. If it snows overnight, you want to get freshies as early as possible.)
• Get a spring tune. The wax and tune that makes you glide easily across midwinter snow can make you feel slow and sticky in warmer conditions. Just as you have to change your clothing and your stance when it gets warmer, changing your gear can make a huge difference. Spring for a hot wax (or a rub-on wax, if you want to apply one mid-day) to keep your skis gliding smoothly, and add a stone grind to keep your edges holding on the occasional frozen patch.
• Follow the sun. In my profiles of Saddleback, Shawnee and Sugarloaf this winter, I recommended skiing the mountains from east to west to stay with the sun. This is doubly true in the spring when the sun gets higher, burns brighter and warms the snow quicker. You can ensure that you hit the snow when it’s perfectly soft and corny, and move along to stick with the good stuff when the snow turns into peanut butter.
• Prepare for the heat. More specifically, hydrate and wear sunscreen. I rarely drink enough water when I’m skiing, yet I’m still surprised to find myself dried out and tired at the end of the day. This problem is compounded during the spring, when you’re working harder and sweating more. Get a camel pack, or at least a water bottle, and remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. There’s no excuse – even the most nickel-and-dime ski area has a free water fountain in the base lodge.
As for sunscreen, apply it early and often. With sun shining down from above and reflecting up off the snow, you’re apt to get cooked like you’re in an easy bake oven. Sunscreen will save your skin, literally. Plus, a goggle tan is a dead giveaway that you weren’t actually ill on that April “sick day” from the office.
• It’s all about balance. East Coasters, used to skiing icy hardpack, tend to charge forward with their weight on the tongues of their boots and tips of their skis. In slushy spring conditions, it’s not so much about leaning back as staying balanced. Keeping your weight over the center of your skis (and evenly on each foot) allows you to float on top of heavy corn snow rather than get bogged down. It’s not just good form – your knees and quads with thank you in the afternoon.
Of course, the exception to the rule is those puddles that pop up in spring. If you see open water, lean back, cross your fingers and pretend you’re on water skis.
• Relax. Skiing is supposed to be fun, remember? Focus less on going as fast as possible and checking off as many runs as possible. Focus more on enjoying the bright sun, warm temps and infectious positivity. Pack a lunch. Explore the woods. Enjoy some tunes at Parrothead Weekend (April 4-6 at Sunday River) or Reggae Fest (April 10-13 at Sugarloaf).
Spring skiing is many things, but mostly it’s a reminder that the feeling is heavenly yet the season is fleeting.
Get out there and ski while you can.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at: