Our local ski area closed over a month ago – and it’s been snowing ever since. I shot this photo a few days ago while skiing at 4000 meters in Colorado's Wild Basin. It felt like mid-winter up there.
For any skier who has the psyche after six months of winter, this is the best time of year to tick many of the big lines. All over the northern hemisphere, snowpacks are fat, the steeper faces are generally more stable, and the long days give us more daylight than our legs can handle. Many coveted lines get skied this time of year including the testpieces of North Peak’s steep north couloir at the edge of California’s Yosemite National Park, the high-altutude ski descents like the Messner Couloir and the Orient Express on Denali, the iconic ski run from the summit of Mt. Blanc, the big faces of the Alps, and countless mellower runs.
Most years I’m like most skiers, and watch the snow melt from a distance while pursuing warmer weather sports. This year, a spring storm cycle inspired me to put my skis on again, and to ski a mountain feature that I would always remember. My ski partner and I wanted to avoid a descent where a fall would be fatal, and instead find the kind of line that was simply fun and thrilling on a beautiful alpine peak.
For the majority of us in the backcountry, it’s not about skiing the aforementioned hair-raising ski lines, but instead about finding our own dream lines that are within our ability – and a lot of stellar ski and snowboard descents are easily accessible in the high country right now.
By this time of year, most of us have put away our skis until next season, but the roads over the mountains passes across western US and Canada offer easy access to great skiing and every year more downhill skiers and snowboarders are realizing the rewards of hiking up for a few turns in the late season. Hotspots for easy access late spring/early summer backcountry skiing include Teton Pass in Wyoming, Stevens Pass in Washington and Loveland Pass in Colorado. If you’ve never ventured out of the ski area without a guide, these are good places for a first step and this is a good time of year to try it, but keep these things in mind:
- Time your run so the sun has softened the surface but not turned it to slush.
- Start on something really mellow – spring snow is super fast.
- Climb up the ski line first so you'll know if the snow is skiable for you and avoid nasty surprises.
- There is no ski patrol - ski with a huge margin of control.
- Ski or snowboard with somebody who has backcountry experience.
- Carry shovel, beacon and probe and know how to use them - avalanches happen every month of the year in North America.
- Most avalanche forecasting services have either closed or reduced their staff and reporting.