A skier navigates a black diamond run underneath lift 1 on a day of spring skiing at the Loveland Ski Area in 2011. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
Spring skiing in Colorado could be epic this year thanks to recent significant storms and forecasts for more. It’s a season for more casual, relaxed skiing that can feel more like a day at the beach than a pursuit of powder.
Sixteen of Colorado’s 25 ski areas will close on April 8 or April 15, which means you may have only three or four more weekends to hit the slopes. Here are some ways to get the most out of your spring ski trip.
Prepare your skis with a simple fix: You don’t have to have your skis fully retuned for spring, but it is a good idea to pick up some rub-on fluorocarbon ski wax and throw it in your backpack if you haven’t had your skis set up for spring conditions.
There are basically two different types of ski wax: hydrocarbon wax for winter snow conditions and fluorocarbon wax for the moist, warm snow typical in the spring.
Hydrocarbon wax works on cold snow because it’s harder and creates a sheen of water between the ski and snow; skis with hydrocarbon wax can “grab” when used on warm, moist snow. Sometimes it grabs so hard and so suddenly that it can cause you to lose your balance. Fluorocarbon wax, which comes in an applicator and goes on like a stick of deodorant, will keep water from penetrating the bases of your skis. When water penetrates your bases, they stick to soft, moist snow.
“Fluorocarbon wax does a better job of repelling the water with corn snow and stickier, heavier snow,” said John Weir, a ski technician at Bent Gate Mountaineering in Golden. “The ski is going to slide more smoothly through that wetter and warmer snow type.”
This is also an important consideration for backcountry travel on touring skis, or on alpine touring gear with climbing skins. If you attempt to kick and glide through heavy, wet spring snow without applying fluorocarbon wax, you very easily could find snow building up underfoot until there’s 2 or 3 inches of snow clinging to your skis. Pack that fluorocarbon wax for your touring skis or skin wax for your skins to minimize that problem.
Prepare for variable conditions: Spring skiing usually involves a freeze-thaw cycle. Snow softens with the warmth of the day, then refreezes overnight, then softens again. Early morning can be icy. Late afternoon can be slushy. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, but generally skiing from 10 or 11 a.m. until 2 or 3 p.m. can be best. Ask a local where the sweet spot might be at a given resort.
Prepare for temperature extremes: You already know about dressing in layers, but that flexibility is really key in the spring. If you’re going to ski all day, you could easily start in sub-freezing temperatures and finish in shirt sleeves. You don’t want to be over-dressed or under-dressed.
Sunscreen and hydration: Both are always important in the high country, but be especially mindful with the sunny, warm conditions of spring skiing.
Two more things about skis: Because of the thaw-freeze cycle, you might want to get your edges sharpened if you plan to ski early in the day. And after your last ski day of the season, it’s a great idea to have a ski shop put a “summer wax” on your skis to protect the bases from drying out over the summer. It will also keep your edges from rusting between seasons.
Projected closing dates of resorts that remain open
April 22: Breckenridge, Eldora and Winter Park
May 6: Loveland, Mary Jane
June 3: Arapahoe Basin
NOTE: This list will be updated if any resorts move their closing dates, depending on snow conditions.