You gotta love the ski-cadian rhythm of skiing. Around Thanksgiving time, we’re praying for enough early snow to fall on our favorite slopes so we can begin making turns once again after “enduring” a long and dry summer. This is quickly replaced by yearning for significant accumulation events, the greedy among us wishing for heavy pre-holiday dumps, while the more patient are content with consistent winter snowfalls that regularly refresh our Januarys and Februarys (with major storms thrown in along the way, of course).
And now, a favorite for many, March and April. It is the time of the season when we long to closet our 800 down in favor of sweaters and T-shirts to comfortably meet rising temperatures, softening snowpack and longer days with abundant sunshine and draft beer.
Many will roll through the clocklike progression of the season without changing things up too much, embracing the simple joy of being out in the mountains. Others are more calculated with different equipment choices and a sharpened focus on tweaking their technique to meet the changing conditions.
For those wanting to maximize performance when the snow turns to corn and those big bumps grow soft and saturated, here are some tips from the pros.
Go with the flow
“Skiing spring conditions can be the best skiing of the year,” says Chris Saylor, general manager of the Okemo Mountain Resort Ski and Ride School. “Early morning snow tends to be set up from lower temperatures overnight, and as the sun warms the mountain, we get the spring phenomenon called corn snow. The top layer softens up while the next layer stays firm. When working with guests all season we talk about constantly flowing as we move down the hill. This is especially important in spring conditions. This helps with our balance as we move through variable terrain. In the spring, snow tends to pile up as skiers move it around and it often becomes sticky. By keeping our legs flexing and extending throughout the turn, it helps create synchronous movement down the hill.”
Engage those ankles
“Along the same lines, a common theme in ski instruction is actively engaging your ankles — beginning your turns by rolling your ankles to initiate a turn,” Saylor says. “This allows the knees, legs and hips to engage. Actively using these tactics helps skiers enjoy a longer season with less effort and allows them to enjoy the spring conditions.”
“If you’ve neglected your skis at all, make sure you slap some warm temp wax on them,” advises Drew Downing, snowsports manager at Burke Mountain Resort in Vermont. “This will keep you moving and avoid the ‘stop and go’ sensation. ”
Downing also suggests that skiers, if they can, select a skinnier ski to tackle the bumps when temps get warmer. “I love fat skis, but if you are in the bumps, break out some narrower-waisted all-mountain skis. They excel in the bumps.”
As far as technique in the bumps? “Hands forward, neutral stance with knees flexed and ready, eyes forward,” Downing says. “Look at that first mogul or two to pick a line and then focus out a few to stay balanced. Pole taps on mogul tops for the speed line.
“Remember, you’re going to want to dump speed the steeper the pitch. Use the troughs and upslopes of the moguls to smear, change up your line, and focus on technique rather than speed. When it flattens out, you can then take the fast lane.
“Oh, and don’t forget to work on your goggle tan.”
In spring conditions when the moisture-filled snow gets heavy, John Pawlak, ski school director at Pats Peak in New Hampshire, finds himself telling guests at all ski levels during the chairlift ride up to use functional tension in their legs and core.
“A strong or solid balance over the skis is a key concept,” he says. “Making sure your body is positioned evenly over the ski.
“One tip I use is while standing still, feel the front of your shin pressing against the tongue of the boot. From a static position, start to head down the hill and keep the connection intact.
“Make a few turns and stop. Regroup and try again, this time four or five turns. Choose a mild pitch (green/easy blue).
“Repeat this process through the run,” he says. “The most important part of this drill is to be honest with maintaining contact. From here, the next free run, try to add ‘functional tension’ throughout the legs.” ′