Steamboat Springs Turn off The Golf Channel and get off the couch right now ------ there is still time in your weekend to go corn skiing. In fact, if you can leave the office by 4 p.m. any afternoon this week, you can carve mellow turns on Rabbit Ears Pass until well after 7 p.m.
"Corn" is the term used to describe the granular snow that forms on the surface of old snow during a repeated cycle of freezing nights and warm, sunny days. The sensation of skiing corn is like skiing on plastic beads -- the snow rolls away under your foot.
Please pass the corn.
There are snow-free patches on Rabbit Ears around some evergreen trees and on extreme south facing embankments. There are also holes in the snow where springs have worked away at the snowpack all winter, finally allowing the snow to cave in and melt. But everywhere else, the snow is at least 4 to 6 feet deep, and the base is remarkably firm.
This is no fleeting opportunity that requires rising with the sun -- during two trips to Rabbit Ears in the past nine days, we found our helping of corn well past lunch time. There was an inch of deluxe granular snow at the West Summit at 1 p.m. May 7. Later in the week, we encountered about two inches of slush on top of a solid base during a ski outing that lasted until 7 p.m. with plenty of daylight to spare.
On mornings after an overnight freeze, the crust is firm, and cross-country skiers can gauge the hour when the first quarter-inch of snow will soften enough in the sun for unlimited skating.
If it's spring Telemark skiing you want, there are two easy options.
For skiers with access to snowmobiles, you can find mellow but rewarding skiing just above the west shore of Dumont Lake. Note that this area is inside the boundary designated for motorized recreation east of the Walton Peak parking lots. Skiers who aren't familiar with the boundaries can pick up trail maps at the U.S. Forest Service office next to the Southside Station Shell gas pumps on the way out of town.
The snowpack is firm enough to support snow machines without bogging down. However, creeks are beginning to open, and it's necessary to pick your way carefully when you reach the back side of the lake, where the inlet of Muddy Creeks is flowing. On May 11, we found that the snow bridges over the creek were strong enough to take the weight of the snowmobiles.
Our party included three skiers and two snow machines, allowing us to rotate shuttle drivers for successive runs up a slope that allowed us about 20 turns before we reached the flats at the lakeshore.
This isn't thrilling skiing, but it's very pleasing. On a balmy May night, with views of Baker Mountain and Diamond Peak in the distance, the novelty of the skiing delivers ample rewards. And the ride back up the hill hanging onto a towrope is almost as fun as water skiing.
For skiers who want the solitude of a non-motorized area, park on the north side of the West Summit and follow Trail 1A past the first shallow bowl to Trail 2A and the second bowl nearing the high-point of the route.
Our party achieved ample grip for hill climbing by gobbing some Toko pink wax on the base of the skis. By the time we were ready to make downhill turns, we quickly learned it was necessary to scrape most of the wax off.
This southeast-facing ski pitch is overlooked all winter because it isn't steep enough to allow Telemark turns with a foot of powder on it. The run only becomes skiable in spring when skiers can stay on top of the snow, carving turns through just an inch or two of corn.
If you think mid-May is too late for skiing and that the snowpack has turned to mush, be assured that's not the case this year.
Spring 2006 will be one of those seasons when avid skiers can lay claim to legitimate Nordic skiing on the pass in June -- don't let it slip by without writing some ski history of your own.
-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org