10 Tips for Backcountry Skiing This Spring

Although most people consider skiing a winter sport, true aficionados of sliding on snow know that the season’s best turns often occur during the spring. While ski resorts celebrate the season with Gaper-Days and pond skims, backcountry skiers enjoy not just the milder weather, but also everything from fewer crowds to a more stable snowpack. So, with longer days and warmer temperatures on the horizon, here are some tips for making the best out of one of skiing season’s best parts.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Location, location, location

The Northeast is replete with outstanding backcountry options for spring skiers. Mount Moosilauke and the Cog on Mount Washington are great intermediate spots, as is Vermont’s Camel’s Hump. In Maine, Sugarloaf Mountain offers backcountry-like skiing, accessed via touring gear or snowshoes on Burnt Mountain. Just don’t forget to buy an uphill pass. And, of course, spring in Tuckerman Ravine is a rite of passage for every New England skier. Pro Tip: Go on a weekday, so you don’t have to enjoy it with every other New Englander.

2. Play the conditions game

There’s nothing worse than driving a couple hours to the mountains, only to find that the snow has already melted. Before you settle on a location, do some research. For forecasted areas, like Tuckerman Ravine, read the avalanche forecast. It typically hints at skiing quality, too. For the rest, between Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you should be able to figure it out.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

3. Wherever you go, start early

In spring, snow typically melts during the day and freezes at night, and within this cycle, the best runs happen when the snow has softened but hasn’t become slushy. An early start is often necessary, as you want to be at the top of your run to take advantage of that magic moment. It’s better to be on top of a line too early, rather than too late, as you can always wait for the snow to soften.

4. Protect your skins

Nothing kills the uphill pace (and stoke) faster than waterlogged skins. In addition to being heavy, they attract snow, causing it to build up on your ski’s underside. Pretty soon, you’ll be off on the side of the skin track, scraping snow off your skin. To avoid the indignity, treat your skins the night before with a skin wax, like Black Diamond’s Glob Stopper. Also, make sure at least one person in your group tucks a bar into their pack before hitting the trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Protect your other skin

The only thing worse than turning red from the indignity of scraping your skins is the red you’ll turn if you forget sunblock. The spring sun might not feel strong, but the skin on your ski isn’t only what needs protection. Snow reflects the sun up at you, exposing you to its intensity from above and below. So, be sure to apply sunscreen before arriving at the trailhead and throughout the day.

6. Just say no to postholing

Soft spring snow is especially prone to postholing, which is the quickest way ruin a skin track or ski run—and get yourself exiled from the local backcountry ski community. Postholing is particularly egregious in the spring, since the likelihood of a storm undoing the damage is low. Prevent postholing by traveling on skis designed for touring, by splitboarding, or by using snowshoes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

 

7. Find the shades

The reflected sun also poses a threat to your eyes. Fortunately, on many spring days, sunglasses are suitable for both the ascent and the descent. Get a good polarized pair, and say goodbye to goggle tan lines.

8. Drink up

Spring’s warmer temperatures typically mean more sweating while touring, and more sweat increases your chances of dehydration. During the spring, get in the habit of bringing more water with you and stopping more frequently to drink than you would in the winter, or consider using a hydration bladder. While these can be difficult in the freezing cold, spring’s warmer days make them a reliable option.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Don’t forget the puffy coat

Spring skiing in the backcountry often exposes you to two entirely different seasons, with summer weather in the parking lot and winter at the top of your run. Because of this, we regularly tuck a puffy (or two) into our packs. It’s lightweight and always a welcome sight when you wander into winter.

10. Wax your skis

Speaking of snow conditions, earning your turns loses a lot of its enjoyment when you suffer from sticky skis on the descent. Having a freshly waxed pair, then, is especially beneficial in slushy spring snow. Even better, wax your skis with a warm-weather wax to avoid those grabby moments. Interested in tuning your skis at home? Check out this goEast article for some great tuning tips.

 

Spring ski season frequently comes to an abrupt end in the Northeast, as seemingly huge snowpacks melt out over the course of a few days. Because of this, every spring ski day is precious, so follow these tips to make the most out of the season’s last hurrah!