All across this grand country, most people have made a transition to spring and summer activities, while we have to plow soccer fields just to give our next season a jump start. Local ski touring centers are winding down if they haven’t already, and even the local Granby Ranch Alpine hill has ceased bringing skiers to the top of the pitch for the season. While most of us that are forward thinkers are in, or are planning to go to the southwest or elsewhere to escape the tail end of winter and its accompanying mud, the place we have chosen to live in stays true to its name for a bit longer.
The local XC ski areas are not closing for a lack of snow as there are few bare spots to be had, in contrast to some years, when we’ve had to finish the season walking some distance to get to the snow. In places like Snow Mountain Ranch, the only brown spots on the trail are from the piles of Moose pellets that are making little craters from the extra warmth their dark hue absorbs from the sun. This will be Snow Mountain’s last weekend, while Grand Lake touring has already closed their operation. HTA has also announced the last grooming of the community trails around the valley. Devil’s Thumb meanwhile has the latest closing date for the valley set at April 14.
Ernest skiers need not hang up the skis just yet, however, as the crust has been providing an excellent surface for going across the landscape. My friends down at Devil’s Thumb tell me they’ve had good crust (seems like a contradiction in terms) for well over a week now, and the firm supportive snow has made its way up the valley to Winter Park and above just last week. While temps have only occasionally dropped toward the single digit mark, with the cooling effect of clear skies, the overnight readings in the twenties have sufficiently hardened the surface for some fast gliding.
Newcomers to crust skiing should be aware that this is a time-sensitive activity, as daily temperature fluctuations after mid-day can transform the crust to a rotten mess that will allow you to drop to the ground in an instant. The best time to get after it is early in the morning, and often up to 11:00, though this will depend on the rate of warming.
Higher up in the mountains, this is the time of year that the backcountry skiing comes into its own, with some of the best coverage and most stable conditions of the season. The sounds of songbirds twittering away among the evergreens and the trickle of awakening streams can have calming effect on the spirit. The aroma of warming spruce, fir and pine needles brings on a nostalgia for past forest adventures.
While powder is a rare find unless you are out right after a storm, the crust that is making its way up toward tree-line is the base for some excellent corn skiing. Corn is a condition of the snow in which large granules that have frozen overnight start to moisten and soften on the surface with the warm air of the new day. If you catch this at the right time, the skiing can be sublime. This is also time-sensitive skiing, and if warming is rapid it becomes a dangerous condition with the entire depth of the snowpack becoming unstable and ready to succumb to gravity.
The opportunities for skiing are far from over in our cold mountain valley, but a big thank you is deserved to all those who have taken care of our mountain community’s winter trails for the season…Mountain States Snowcats, RENDEzVOUS COLORADO, Town of Winter Park, Town of Fraser, Colorado, and Granby Ranch.