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

By this time of year, the snow begins to form into what is called “corn.” These little beads of snow get their name from the fact that they look like frozen corn kernels. To form this glorious surface, you need multiple sunny, warm days in a row plus cold freezing conditions at night. If this Spring-like weather loop gets going, you’ll be hooked for life.

Timing is everything

corn snow Mt Bachelor Spring Skiing April

Cow’s 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 as hard as an ice skating rink. Too late and it will be what is called “mashed potatoes.” They may be good on the dinner table, but for snow, it means a slushy mess, causing your skis or snowboard to stick like you’re riding a wave of Elmer’s Glue. Following Goldilocks’ mantra – the snow must be juuuuust right.

So, what time do you need to get there? Unfortunately, there is no set time and it’s totally dependent on the weather. In the morning, scope out the temps from the past few nights and see how cold it’s been. If it’s hitting way below freezing (mid-20s), you should start later in the day, like around 11:00 am. If it doesn’t drop below freezing, you need to get going and be 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 soften up. This is always the best plan, because if you miss your window by being late, you are done for the day!

Other contributing factors to monitor

  • Cloudiness
  • Wind
  • Air Temperature

Clouds, wind, air temps and even precipitation affect the quality of great corn snow more than anything else! From a weather standpoint, the southern Sierra Nevadas, where Mammoth Mountain is located, have the world’s best spring climate for corn snow: consistent clear weather on a deep snowpack with warm days and freezing nights. Simple variations like overcast skies or winds that kick-up can have a big impact on what should be a perfect Spring skiing day.

Aspect

Cornice Bowl Mammoth Mountain California Spring Skiing

Cornice Bowl at Mammoth Mountain

To “harvest” the best corn snow, you need to understand the type of terrain the mountain has. Aim for trails, like open bowls, that are away from any vegetation. Big open faces are the best Spring spots. Trees and bushes have falling debris causing the quality of snow to degrade quickly. When you start your day, try to find the trails that are South facing and open to the sky. These runs will soften the quickest since they get most of the early sun. If the snow is softened up and perfect to your liking, keep hitting those South facing runs as long as you can.

Once the southern faces have been “reaped”, time to head over to East faces and repeat. Finally, finish up the day on North facing runs since these will be the last to soften. You will be navigating across the mountain, following the sun for the perfect corn snow all day. Unfortunately, on cooler days, the snow may not soften at all. It is possible to ski packed powder in late March/early April when the air temps are 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’re going to be doing a lot of spring skiing and have some extra cash to spend, get your base surface structured so water quickly channels away. This is a great way to extend your day and not get frustrated by “sticking” as you ride. This trick allows you to ride wet snow more smoothly. If you don’t want to spend the money, at least switch to a warm weather wax (above 32° F). For the final touch, use a bristle pad to make 45° angle patterns down your skis or snowboard so that the water doesn’t flow the entire length of the board. All these tricks will help reduce the friction.

Now that your gear is prepped and you’ve got an idea of how to shred the “corn”, where should you go? Stay tuned! Next week, we’ll highlight the 9 best resorts for late season skiing & snowboarding across North America.

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