Best kept secret – skiing into April and May in North America

Does April or May mean the ski season is over?!?!? NO WAY! This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Think we are crazy? Don’t know what we are talking about? Let us prove you wrong. Put up the bathing suits and grab the snow gear. Put that trip to the tropics on hold. This spring, head to the mountains! Why you ask.  The days are longer, the crowds have reduced to a trickle, and the winter storms have given way to sunshine and warm temperatures. If you haven’t taken a trip out west this year, now is this time!

The road to Mt Bachelor is beautiful any time of year but in spring the contrasts of green and white are breathtaking.  Winter clinging to life on top of Mt Bachelor.

The road to Mt Bachelor is beautiful any time of year but in spring the contrasts of green and white are breathtaking. Winter clinging to life on top of Mt Bachelor.

Why you should go

  • Great deals to stay & ski
  • Sunny weather and warm temps
  • Non-existent crowds
  • The ability to do other stuff like golf AND ski in the same day

But, before you even pick the ski resort to visit there are a few things that you should know about spring skiing. First, don’t expect to ride a full day. Instead, focus on the full experience. The après ski is almost as important as the skiing. Is there a cool town to hang in? Do you have a place that has a grill and patio to chill at? How about a mountain bike park or a golf course? Now you feelin’ it? Next, don’t expect the resorts to be at full operation. This is good news though it means that you’ll have a ton of terrain all to yourself and can lap those runs until you can’t feel your legs.

Corn?! What’s that got to do with snow?

What a busy day at Mt Bachelor in the spring.  Someone took one turn ahead of her off of Summit Chair.

What a busy day at Mt Bachelor in the spring. Someone took one turn ahead of her off of Summit Chair.

By this time of year the snow begins to form into what is called “corn.” These little nuggets get their name from the fact that they look like frozen corn kernels. For it to form you need multiple sunny and warm days in a row plus cold freezing nights to produce this glorious surface. If it does, you will be hooked for life.

Timing is everything

Cows Face on Mt Bachelor is primed and ready for some great carving.

Cows Face on Mt Bachelor is primed and ready for some great carving.

For perfect spring turns, timing is essential. Get there too early and it will be hard as an ice skating rink. Too late and it will be what they call “mashed potatoes.” This means that the snow is slushy causing your skis or snowboard to stick like you are riding on top of Elmer’s Glue. Like Goldi-lox the snow must be juuuuust right. So what time do you need to get there? Unfortunately, there is no set time and is totally dependent on the weather. Prior to arriving, scope out the temperatures at night to see how cold it has been getting. If it’s getting way below freezing (mid-20s) then you should start later in the day like around 11:00 am. If it doesn’t get below freezing then you need to get there as soon as the lifts start running.  As a rule of thumb, you can never be too early.  If it’s still firm when you get there hangout, grab a coffee or beverage of your choice, make new friends and enjoy the mountains while you wait for the snow to loosen up. This is always the best plan, because if you miss your window you are done for the day.

Other contributing factors to monitor

  • Cloudiness
  • Wind
  • Air Temperature

Clouds, wind, and precipitation affect the quality of great corn snow more than anything else.

Aspect

Cornice Bowl primed up and ready for a great day of spring skiing.

Cornice Bowl primed up and ready for a great day of spring skiing.

To “harvest” the best corn, you should really understand the mountain and the type of terrain it has. Look for trails like open bowls that are away from any vegetation. Trees and bushes will have debris falling onto the ground causing the quality of snow to degrade quickly. When you begin your day try to find the runs or trails that are south facing. These runs will soften the quickest since they get most of the early sun. If the snow is softened up and perfect to your tastes keep hitting runs that are south facing. Once that is “reaped” head over to runs that face east and repeat. Finally, finish up the day on north facing runs since these runs will be the last to soften. Sometimes on cooler days the runs will not soften at all. It is possible to ski packed powder in late March/early April when the air temp is in the upper 50’s. It all depends on the big orange fireball in the sky!

Get your equipment ready

Just like cold powder snow your equipment needs to be ready for spring conditions as well. If you are going to be doing a lot of spring skiing, getting your base structured so that the water wicks away the moisture is a great way to extend your day. This trick allows you to ride wet snow more smoothly. If you don’t want to spend the money then at least switch to a warm weather wax (above 32 degrees F). For final touches use a bristle pad to make 45 degree angle patterns down your skis and snowboard so that the water doesn’t flow the entire length of the board. This reduces the friction.

Now that your board/skis are prepped and got an idea of how to ski/board corn.  Where should you go? Here are the things to consider when picking a resort:

  • Historically open late into the season
  • Large amount of terrain above treeline
  • Deep snowpack
  • Ski resort that’s received lots of snow (at least annual average)

Each of the following resorts fit this criteria. As recommended above, the après should be good too.

Nothing like wearing a t-shirt while skiing!

Nothing like wearing a t-shirt while skiing!  Chilling mid-mountain at Mammoth in May

Whistler-Blackcomb

  • A walkable village filled with a TON to do
  • Mountain Biking at the bottom of the resort opens in late April so you can ski/snowboard AND mountain bike in the same day in late April/May.

Mt. Bachelor

  • This place is “Beer-vana” with a HUGE selection of breweries that you can walk to. There even is a Bend – Brew tour app!
  • A volcanic cone which means you can follow the sun to find the best snow. Best spring snow on the planet.

Squaw Valley

  • The town of Truckee is nearby filled with tons of great cuisine
  • Lake Tahoe is just a few minutes away with boating and golfing available usually by late April

Mammoth

  • With a huge population in Los Angeles just a few hours away Mammoth normally has more terrain open than any other resort late into the spring.

Arapahoe Basin

  • Typically open until June or later this place is a mecca for spring skiing. The parking lot is called the “Beach” and you can watch people skiing down the mountain as you grill right in the parking lot
Nothing like have the entire mountain to yourself and some great corn waiting for you to slash it.  Summit Chair at Mt Bachelor.

Nothing like have the entire mountain to yourself and some great corn waiting for you to slash it. Summit Chair at Mt Bachelor.

This is only a few of the many places that are open into spring.

Be sure to check out our article next week as we begin to prepare for our spring trip to Mt. Bachelor.

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