Springtime is a truly magical time for any serious skier. It can mean corn skiing and powder skiing all in the same day. The lifts have stopped turning, the goggles are being traded in for sunglasses, and you’re skiing in a pair of swim trunks. Now is the time to load up a car full of friends, a cargo box full of skis, and a cooler full of beer. Hit the passes, ski all day, and apres in the parking lot or campground with your best ski partners.
We’ve compiled a list of Gear, Tips, and Trips to help you maximize your skiing this spring and into the summer!
Most spring days don't call for a fat powder ski, but you still need enough underfoot to push around some heavy corn snow. What you will want (especially for big objectives) is a lightweight pair of skis with nicely tuned edges to keep you on your feet where you need to move through the bulletproof snow to hit a perfectly timed corn cycle. Check out these lightweight, versatile, all mountain skis to help you reach the summit:
Beacons, shovels, and probes can often-times be overlooked when people are out spring and summer skiing. Avalanches don’t only happen in the summer. Wet slides are the big danger during this time of the season, and they can definitely still sweep you off your feet, toss you around, and leave you buried. So make sure you always travel with a beacon, shovel, and probe on these nice spring and summer ski days. Check out the Barryvox Avalanche Beacon and the Light RAS Airbag Pack from Mammut before you venture into the backcountry.
One of the greatest aspects to spring skiing is the ease with which you stay on top of the snow while booting around. You’re still going to want a set of skins though. There are a couple places that you can get away with not owning them (see the Beartooth Pass and Mt. Hood below), but otherwise, skins are definitely a must for heading out this spring to tackle any big objectives. Personally, we really like the G3 Alpinist Climbing Skins. The attachment system is super easy to use, the skins are light and they glide effortlessly.
What to Pack
You’re probably going to be able to leave a lot of things from your winter touring kit at home, but you also get to add a few things into the pack this time of year. Although you get to leave the mega puffy at home, you now get to bring the skin wax along. Trade in the hard shells for soft shells, and cut some weight by subbing in glasses for goggles. Here’s a list of some of our Spring ‘never leaves’ (things we don’t leave the house without):
- Beacon, Shovel, Probe (obviously)
- Soft shell jacket
- Sun hoody
- Lots of sunscreen
- Skin wax (must have)
- Food & Water
Everything else is more of a luxury, but if you have the above things, you’re probably set for a spring day of big objective skiing.
When to Go
One of the greatest things about spring skiing is that you have so much sunlight! Unfortunately, this sunlight is also what can put an end to your skiing. It’s important to time the “corn cycle” correctly. So what is the corn cycle? It’s that point right between snow that is too firm to ski and mashed potato snow. You really don’t want to be out skiing bulletproof conditions, and you especially do not want to still be out skiing when the snow starts to heat up and a lot of water starts moving through it. This is when you start to play with the dangers of wet slides. So get up early, and beat the heat for a safe day of spring skiing!
Just like we said above, you want to get out early to beat the sun. The aspect you choose to ski should be selected by the same principle: beat the sun. South facing aspects will be better to ski earlier in the day while North facing aspects will be better to ski later in the day. If you plan your day and your objective right, you might be able to get both done in one day while skiing both in perfect corn conditions. It’s a pretty simple rule of thumb, but just make sure to beat the heat and you’ll have a fun and safe spring skiing season!
Beartooth Pass/Beartooth Basin Ski Area
The Beartooth Pass is a historic highway that connects Red Lodge to the East entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Every spring and summer (it opens on Memorial Day), skiers flock to the Beartooth Pass to ski the Rock Creek Headwall, the Gardiner Headwall, and the Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area. Read our full blog post on the Beartooth Pass, Summer Guide to Skiing the Beartooth Pass - Where the Locals Ski, Eat, and Sleep.
Photo: The Gardiner Headwall at the top of the Beartooth Highway gives access to some of the best hitch-hike-accessed turns on the pass.
This is another one that every serious skier has either been to or has plans to make the pilgrimage to. Timberline truly has something for everyone from the serious backcountry skier to the park skier and from ski racers to snowboarders. Timberline keeps the chairs spinning 12 months out of the year and offers an abundance of camps for skiers and snowboarders. Whether you want to just free ski or attend a camp, Mt Hood is a good one to check out. Being able to ski 2,600’ of lift accessed snow in the summer should be enough to suit the fancy of any skier.
Photo: Mt Hood Summer Skiing, Courtesy of Mt Hood Summer Ski Camps
The access for Rainier is much more difficult than the previous two mentioned. There is not a T-bar or chair lift to access the pass, and you unfortunately can’t hitch-hike to the top. Although, if you’re thinking about skiing Rainier, you’re probably perfectly okay with the previous statement. If everything we’ve just said sounds perfectly okay to you, check out this Mt. Rainier trip report from Wild Snow.
Photo: Skiing on Mt Rainier, Courtesy of RMI Expeditions
The spring is an amazing time to be a skier. From ski mountaineering on Rainier to hitch-hike laps on the Beartooth Highway, you are guaranteed to find something to fit your ambitions and your skill level. Load the cooler with beers, don the sunscreen, grab friends and dogs and head out for a little spring skiing! As always - let Backcountry Freeskier set you up with any new gear before you head out into the hills!