Splash into Spring Skiing

Late-season skiing brings a different kind of fun

Spring is probably the most social time of the season,” says Chuck Nagle, Cannon Mountain ski school supervisor. “Winter is effectively over. People are hanging out on decks, enjoying the sun and not having to wear everything they own. It’s freedom.”

Though spring brings out the freckles, it also has its challenges as snow surfaces change with the sun, going from a morning frosty carpet to delightful late-morning butter and often ending with an afternoon glop of lumpy gravy.

“Dealing with changing snow conditions is a big part of spring skiing and riding,” says Nate Waterhouse, ski and snowboard school director at Attitash Mountain Resort/Wildcat Mountain. “The day may start with perfect conditions, and as the sun gets higher and more people use the trails, the piles start to develop. Maintaining a balanced stance in the middle of your skis or board will allow you to spread the workload over your whole body.”

Do your thighs burn?

Waterhouse says tired thighs are caused by being slightly behind on your boards making that part of your leg work harder. 

“A strong core and balanced stance will allow you to deal with these conditions more easily,” he says.

Waxing your boards helps, and so does choosing your line as the snow starts to soften and then get sticky.

“Look for the shadows,” says Nagle. “Skiing in the shade gets you more speed.” Plus, tighten your stomach for better control, he advises.

Then there are the bumps, a minefield for some, a glorious graceful groove for others.

“Approach the bumps with joy,” says Nagle. “As time goes on, the moguls get soft. They become like cushions.”

Waterhouse suggests new bump skiers and riders cross the bump field first to get an idea what’s ahead, and then imagine a staircase. As you get used to the bumps, over time, that imaginary staircase will shorten.

“The skier or rider will need to bring solid short-turn mechanics with them to the bumps,” says Waterhouse. “The ability to change the size and shape of the turn is also an important skill to develop.”

Of course, a lesson is helpful too.

Then hit the soft bumps. Cannon’s plunging Front Five attracts spring experts, particularly the moguls on Paulie’s Folly. Feel the rhythm on Wildcat’s Lift Lion across from Mount Washington or under the lift on Grandstand at Attitash. Some trails are half groomed, half bumped up, such as True Grit at Waterville Valley Ski Resort. Show what’ve you’ve got on Upper Flying Goose at Mount Sunapee Resort or Upper and Lower Flume on Loon Mountain’s North Peak. Koessler at Cranmore Mountain rarely sees grooming. For something different, try the glades off the Telegraph T-Bar at Bretton Woods. 

In spring, the backcountry also beckons from beyond the chairlifts. The Granite State is home to a northeastern rite of passage — the legendary Tuckerman Ravine. The glacial cirque on Mt. Washington’s eastern shoulder is a mecca for the masses with an alpine stage showcasing everything from fluid expert skiers and riders to ill-prepared, clueless fools who really have no business making the attempt.

Historic Tucks contains a bounty of narrow-to-steep challenging runs with names like Hillman’s Highway, Left Gully and The Chute. It first gained fame during the Inferno races of the 1930s, which attracted top racers of the time.

Backcountry brethren, with all their equipment and necessities, hike in some 3 miles along the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to the ravine’s base. Then they have to hike up the run to finally ski down. There are high-stakes risks, including avalanches, undermined snow and errant car-sized falling ice. Though by April the height of avalanche danger has passed (hence its popularity come spring), checking the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s advisories is a must. So is a rigorous exercise regimen.

“You have to be in great physical condition,” says Nagle. “The mountain doesn’t care if you’re tired. You don’t have to be the greatest skier in the world, but you have to be in great shape.”

To extend the Tuckerman experience, or enter into it via a more benign pathway, descend along the winding Sherburne Ski Trail from the Hermit Lake shelters near the ravine to the center’s parking area. Originally cut in 1934, the 2.4-mile long Sherbie trail is like an ungroomed blue square trail.

“Stay within your comfort and ability levels,” says Waterhouse. “Ski and ride what you like and don’t let peer pressure put you in a situation that you are not able to handle. Use your head and enjoy your time out there.”

Think maybe a goofball event is more your style? Whether participating or watching from the sidelines, which can sometimes be wet, the thrills, chills and spills of pond skimming is another rite of spring. Sink or skim, skiers and snowboarders must navigate a chilled man-made pond for bragging rights.

Tips? Wax the boards, keep your weight back and get some speed.

Pats Peak hosts a pond skim on March 18. Who knows what can happen at Gunstock Mountain Resort’s Spring Thing Weekend from March 18-19. Break out the swimsuits for the slush pool during the 30th Annual Beach Party at Bretton Woods on March 25. On March 26, make the trek to King Pine in East Madison for its pond skim and beach party.

The wet-and-wild 19th Annual Slush Cup is a perfect April Fools’ Day event at Mount Sunapee, as is Waterville Valley’s Last Run Luau Pond Skim. April 8 offers two great events: Get a poolside seat a few feet from the Octagon Lodge for Loon’s Slushpool Party and Wet Tug-of-War, or head to Cannon for the Blizzard Splash Pond. Wear a costume to get in the spirit at Wildcat’s Pond Skim, happening April 15.

So grab a positive attitude and swing into some sweet, sugary spring snow.

Categories: Outsider