One of the things that has become most evident as a result of the ‘Shelter in place’ and ‘get exercise close to home’ orders has been that exercise is considered by many to be on the list of high priorities. And well it should be. Getting out for an hour or so of exercise a day improves the spirit, oxygenates the brain, stimulates creative thinking, and improves both fitness and health. It seems that people are using trails more than ever. There is no doubt that the loss of the ability to use the Recreation Center in addition to the sudden, imposed opportunities for free time for so many people have been paramount to the sudden influx of trail users of all sorts.
As the winter trails transition to spring conditions, it is useful to consider time of day and recent weather conditions when deciding how best to get out on the trails. Spring mornings have been typical for this season, but this year’s weather patterns have led to some extraordinary skiing. The early morning surface has been hard, fast, stable and steady, having had very little wind to disrupt the smoothness and uniformity of the surface quality. This has led to some of the best crust skiing off-trail that one could ask for. Even the 2-3” of new snow that fell last week bonded well to the icy top-coating and made the skiing exceptionally good with a velvety, creamy texture, that made skis nice and quiet as well as easier for long extended glides again. This was such a welcome contrast to the scrapy sound of sliding directly on old, crusty snow crystals made jagged by the overnight freeze. Lightweight racing skis can perform really well, but if you are still developing your edging and balance skills, you might consider metal edges. Of course, in this sport, developing balance as a skill is inherent to the activity.
The trails themselves are not at all inviting in the early morning, as ruts and piles of snow from the previous day’s users remain frozen like a trail on a jagged igneous coastline, knocking skis about and making balancing an act of desperate survival. Better snow, easier for balancing can be found just to the side of the trail, where no recent tracks have been made.
If gliding lightning-fast on skinny skis over open snowy meadows isn’t your cup of tea, waiting until mid-day can allow the trail surface to soften enough to move a little underfoot. The window of time for this trail condition to be just right can be narrow depending on the aspect to the sun and the daily rate of temperature rise. Too much sun and warming and the snowpack can become soft and unsupportive. This year’s snow, however seems much less prone to caving in than in past seasons. I recall a few years ago, skiing out onto the Frenchman trail at Mary Jane and having my skis drop to the ground as the snow was rotting away in the mid-day sun. Whether this year’s snow has more density due to weight, or conditions are cooler than in those past years one can only speculate. The upshot is that with a wider ski, the skiing in the warmer part of the day is still pretty good and fairly supportive even in some off-trail areas, albeit much slower than the crisp morning snow.
The uncovered ground is expanding fairly rapidly up the valley, starting first on the south-facing hillsides, and road cuts, and growing outward, eating away at available surface for skiing. Snow-sport enthusiasts will soon be forced to retreat up into the hillsides to higher elevations where cooler breezes preserve the snow just a bit longer. Snow below tree-line can delay the local hiking season with a deep white quagmire that can impede foot-travel passage for some time after the usual start of the trail-hiking season for most locales around the country. Until then, we can continue to enjoy one of the best crust seasons this area has to offer.