Active Outdoors: Silly Season is spring skiing is at its best
I'm sorry I wrote about kayaking last week and got too many of you thinking about a spring that isn't going to happen for awhile yet. Personally, I'm in mourning for that huge storm that just missed us this week. If I had been able to pick the storm's track, Boston and the Cape would have gotten rain, while those of us lucky enough to live farther north and west would have gotten feet upon feet of new snow.
Last week's column shook loose a number of questions from readers who are obviously thinking spring -- but I'm going to hold off answering those until spring actually arrives (sometime in May?)
For now, every ski area in New England is open, most have 100 percent of their terrain open, cross-country ski trails are still beautifully snow-covered, there are snowshoeing opportunities galore on the hills and it's time to enjoy the very best of winter.
Think about it. People travel thousands of miles to ski in sunshine on soft snow. For the next month or so, you can have that right in your own backyard! Don't sit around moping because it isn't spring yet. Enjoy winter while you still have it! Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Silly Season arrives!
I call it Silly Season. Every ski area in the east gets just a little crazy as the end of the season looms, perhaps to show the snow gods how much we are going to miss winter. Anyway, almost every ski hill entices folks to a last day on the slopes with friendly races and big-air competitions, chili cook-offs, dummy hucks (sending effigies rather than human sacrifices off a monster kicker to die a symbolic death), cardboard sled races, on-slope music festivals, pond skimming contests, Hawaiian shirt days, 1970s retro days ... you get the idea. As if sunshine and lots of soft snow weren't enough ...
Pick your favorite area. Check the website. Odds are that some Saturday or Sunday will have some celebration of Silly Season planned. It's all in good fun, many of the events raise money for worthy charities, and you get to enjoy the sun and soft snow.
Spring skiing tips
First, a reminder -- always, always, always check weather and snow conditions before you head for the ski hill of your choice. Some areas close early for lack of skiers, others operate on weekends only.
Spring skiing is so different from its winter counterpart, they almost seem like two different sports. In the winter you are bundled up, focused on carving tracks in often-hard snow. In winter, you have to get everything right, be on your best game. In the spring, however, skiing is a relaxed sport of sunshine and smiles. Maybe that's because people have already had so much skiing this season they are willing to relax and enjoy what's left -- or maybe it's that lift tickets and lodging are so much cheaper in the spring.
In any case, patience and a relaxed attitude pays off in the spring. You have to time your day right if you want to hit the best of the best.
Most areas groom as little as possible at this time of year, not only to save money, but also to save their snow. Grooming can compact the snow's natural crystalline structure and actually make it prone to melting faster. That's why you don't see as many groomed slopes -- they groom when they have to.
Watch the weather closely. If it's below freezing at the mountain in the morning, and you rush to make the first chair, you might just find yourself bumping downhill on snow that softened the day before, then froze into a rutted crust.
But if you wait just a little while, magic can happen. The sun, which has been hiding behind the hill all season emerges earlier on March mornings, climbs higher above the peaks, and uses its strength to create some of the best snow conditions of the entire season. Snow that has repeatedly frozen and thawed forms large crystals called "corn snow" that is even more perfect (if that's possible) for skiing on than fresh powder. It's like skiing on butter.
In addition to the temperature, pay attention to the pitch and aspect of the slope (the direction it faces). Steep, east-facing slopes soften first on a sunny spring morning and that's what you are looking for. As the day progresses you can follow the sun across the face of the mountain, finding that perfect moment when the snow has softened a little but not too much.
As March turns to April, perfect timing will change yet again. Just keep an eye on the thermometer. If the nights stay above freezing and the days get downright warm, you want to get out early and catch the snow before it turns to slush.
The sun is inevitably going to win and the wonderful winter we've all been enjoying will eventually end. But that's not for another month yet -- at least.
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