Spring skiing takes hold at Steamboat Ski Area
Good to the last drop
April 4, 2010
Spring skiing tips
■ Tune up
A tune can do a lot to help skis or snowboards deal with the spring muck. Special spring skiing wax can help skis glide over the slushy snow, and a fresh spring standard on the bottom can help channel water out from under the ski and board.
■ Time aplenty
With more daylight comes more hours at the ski area — an extra 30 minutes for the area’s main lifts. Many take advantage of that time and get a later start, allowing the ice, formed during the night, a chance to thaw under the sun.
■ Look high
A nice thaw can turn to a sticky slush, but colder temperatures higher on the mountain, or on slopes out of the sun, can combine with warmer temperatures to find the perfect balance between slush and ice. Later in the day, look above the gondola for the best skiing.
Steamboat Springs — Sun spotted the expansive valley below Mount Werner and Steamboat Ski Area on Friday afternoon, but as the day ground on, the clouds held their place above the mountain, making for a gray existence.
"Doesn't feel much like spring skiing," Ryan Bowers said after wrapping up the day at the base area.
Plenty of powder was left over from a Thursday storm that stretched into Friday morning, and, according to skiers and riders, it felt like a regular midwinter day.
And in that is the strange duality that is spring skiing. Many love the late-season period for the ability to shred in a T-shirt, sip Sunshine in the sunshine and look like a superstar on the soft and forgiving snow.
And many love it because a day after it was necessary to navigate around brown spots that appeared to finally be winning a war they waged throughout this dry winter, some of the best powder skiing of the season could be had.
Soft and fun, deep and slushy, cold and hot: It's all spring skiing.
"It's a shame everything gets shut down early in April," said Tim Magill, of Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare. "That's when the skiing is just getting good."
Spring skiing comes with its own set of advantages and can be so different that some talk about it like it's a different sport entirely. Still, there's no need to swap actual equipment, One Stop Ski Shop's Sean Battiste said.
The same skis and boards that served so well throughout the season will do fine in the watery slush, but a new wax job and structure can greatly improve performance.
"Structure is a texture we grind into the base of a ski with this stone we have," Battiste said. "It's like treads on a tire, and it really helps to channel the water off the base, so there's less friction and contact with that wet snow."
He said an overall spring-appropriate tune at One Stop Ski Shop could run about $35.
It isn't as much of a problem thanks to the dump of snow Steamboat got during the week, but spring snow often can become grimy. Appropriate wax can help protect what might have been a big fall investment in that way, too. Plus, it can be a huge help in gliding over the often grippy, watery snow.
"Soft wax really enhances the skiing, and it keeps your skis clean," Magill said.
Adapting to the conditions
Spring means a different approach at the ski area, too.
Mornings can be icy, so many said they prefer to get a later start.
"You need to perfect your timing," Magill said. "Sometimes it's hard because in the morning, you need a good edge. I was just down in Taos (N.M.), and we didn't even go until 10:30 because that's when the snow was just getting right."
As the day wears on, the opposite problem can occur, and, especially lower on the mountain where it's warmer, slush can take hold. That doesn't mean it's time for a snack for many, though. It means everything from the gondola up should be seasoned just about perfectly.
"The whole mountain holds up very well. We have crews working around the clock on it," Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said. "The Sundown and Sunshine areas are always great at the right time of day, and about mid-afternoon, Heavenly Daze can be tremendous. Personally, I love spring for the big, groomed cruisers."
Ski area employees always are conscious of the constantly melting snow, especially Nick Roma, who started this season as Steamboat's terrain park manager.
In January, for instance, he said his team spends its time sweeping snow away from the carefully constructed jumps, rails and features. He said they rebuild a feature about once every three weeks. In April, they push that snow back and end up doing a rebuild every three or four days.
"It's a lot of maintenance and a lot of rebuilding. You can lose 18 inches a day in the sunlight," Roma said.
Again, though, spring has its advantages. Roma designed and built the Lil' Rodeo terrain park for the season and for the first time included a mini halfpipe. That was such a success that he said it would be rebuilt next winter to be taller, longer and better. Still, the pipe met its end as the ski area moved toward next weekend's Closing Day, and Roma and four of his crew spent Friday re-forming the snow from what had been a beginner rail park into the venue for the next day's rail jam competition.
"The snow gets a lot easier to build with, so that's great for us," he said. "Plus, everyone seems more comfortable in terrain parks."
That comfort level is called the "hero factor," and it's far from just a terrain park thing.
"I love spring skiing," One Stop Ski Shop's John Kole said. "The snow is fun to ski on. It's soft and forgiving. It creates hero bumps. They're soft, they slow you down, and they're easy to ski in.
"It makes you look good."
Fun in the sun
Another round of spring-breakers kept the lifts full and the slopes carved Friday.
For most of the afternoon, it looked and felt like midwinter. But late in the day, the clouds finally began to give way, shining sun on après hot spots such as Bear River Bar & Grill and Slopeside Grill.
Bowers sat in front of Slopeside with friends Toby Athron and Nick Drane, who were visiting from Denver for a day of skiing. They were not far from remnants of the establishment's popular ice bar, which earlier this week succumbed to warm weather. And they were soaking up every minute.
"In the spring, you can sit outside, drink beer and get a suntan," Athron said.