Steamboat Springs Christina Newman skied down quickly but without ever letting loose. Her 10-year-old son, Spencer Newman, meanwhile, was careful, slipping his skis between pie and fry with the careful nature of a beginner, slowly making his way down High Noon early Thursday morning.
“It reminds me of East Coast skiing,” said Christina Newman, ofFlorida. “This was the best run we’ve had yet, though. This was the least icy.”
The good news for the Newmans: Things were only going to get better. Sure enough, an icy morning warmed into a slushy afternoon.
For many skiers and snowboarders, there’s an ongoing love-hate relationship with spring skiing. Learning how to make the best of the conditions, which change gradually from morning to afternoon, can help the first runs be as sweet as the last.
The lifts at the base of Steamboat Ski Area still start at 8:30 a.m., but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to. A nasty freeze-thaw cycle makes skiing in the morning the most difficult because all of yesterday’s slush now is a slippery top layer of ice.
“The prime time to be skiing in the spring is between 10 or 11 a.m. and about 2 p.m.,” Steamboat Ski Area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said.
That doesn’t mean skiing in the morning can’t be great, she explained.
To make the most of it, stick to runs that have plenty of exposure to the sun. They’ll be the softest. That means wide-open intermediate trails like Buddy’s Run can be ideal. Many of the trails accessed by Sundown Express and Sunshine Express also will be in prime time. That includes wide blues like Tomahawk and High Noon.
“High Noon, One O’Clock, Two O’Clock, those trails are named for the time when the sun is supposed to hit them,” Kasten explained. “With daylight saving time, that gets pushed back a bit, so by 11 a.m., High Noon should have plenty of sun.”
Icy conditions don’t have to mean slippery conditions, either. A grooming report will reveal which runs were groomed the night before, and no matter how much slush there was, that sweet corduroy can provide traction and some fun speed.
“It can make the morning tricky, but people can enjoy that,” said Nelson Carmichael, who mastered snow of all textures en route to a bronze medal in freestyle skiing at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
“A lot of people like to go up and just cruise down the perfect groomers,” he said.
As the sun comes on, things change quickly. Even by noon, snow across the mountain will begin to soften, and that can make skiers and riders target entirely different areas.
“That time between noon and 4 p.m., I call that hero snow,” Kasten said. “It lets you glide any direction you want so everyone looks like a spectacular skier.”
Afternoons frequently leave people running back to cars and condos to ditch sweaters or trade coats for jackets.
There also are few better times annually to tackle some of the more daunting terrain. That doesn’t mean head for the double black steeps. Those moguls that have been teasing someone all season, though, are a prime target.
In January and February, a season of snow has been pushed aside to make the bumps an obstacle course more than a little frustrating to many skiers. In the spring, they’ve melted down to a degree, and in the afternoon, they’ve become soft and slushy.
“The bumps get all slushy, and they can be pretty good,” Carmichael said. “They’re not as intimidating, and you can work on ski control. You don’t feel like you’ll take off and have all this crazy speed while you’re working on something new. Even if you do fall, it’s no big deal because it’s so soft.”
The supreme powder days may have passed, but that doesn’t mean a good day on the mountain has.
“It’s like skiing in the summertime,” Carmichael said. “It can be great.”
Spring skiing tips
■ Don’t be afraid to sleep in. The conditions are best from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
■ In the morning, look for slopes with sun exposure. Shadows frequently mean ice. Check out Buddy’s Run off the Storm Peak Express chairlift or Tomahawk or High Noon off the Sundown Express lift.
■ Give moguls a shot in the afternoon. There’s no better time of year to try. Nelson Carmichael said spring skiing in the bumps is similar to skiing them on a powder day. That means they’ll be forgiving, and a fall is likely to be soft.
■ Speaking of soft falls, they work hard to keep the terrain park in shape. Steamboat has three: Maverick’s and Rabbit Ears below the Christie Peak Express and Bashor lifts and Lil’ Rodeo near the base of the gondola.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com