Spring Skiing: Eat Your Leftovers!
There are some folks who suffer through winter counting the days until they can sip their double mocha iced lattes on an outdoor patio on Newbury Street. If you’re one of those folks then you can stop reading now: this article isn’t for you.
For those of us who just can’t let go of winter, and want to stretch the ski season a little deeper into mountain biking season, I’ve got an idea. It came to me after someone recently posted a comment on my blog, Nor’Easter Backcountry. The anonymous poster mentioned that they had never tried backcountry skiing, but were hoping to “get away from the chairlift” someday. My initial reaction was to tell them that they should check it out next year, but then I thought to myself: this poor soul needs help NOW!
Backcountry skiing in the East is usually synonymous with glade skiing, and it’s no secret that glade skiing requires generous snow coverage to avoid disaster. So as the snow pack shrinks, our sights turn to the various slides (e.g. North Twin and Osceola), glacial cirques ( e.g.Tuckerman’s and the Gulf of Slides) and any other place where snow has been gathering and consolidating all winter (i.e. my freezer).
This time of year we can become desperate enough that a twelve hour drive to the Chic-Chocs suddenly sounds like a reasonable idea.
One oft-overlooked location for spring skiing are the pistes of the many local closed ski areas.
While the lifts are still turning on the big mountains of the North like Jay Peak and Sugarloaf, most of the smaller mountains have closed their lodges and drained the water from their snowmaking equipment by the end of April. Places like Bolton Valley, Burke, and Sunapee have all closed for the season.
They are the proverbial leftovers, sitting quietly in a Tupperware in your fridge, right in your face, but mostly unnoticed.During some years (like this year), these closures occur when the areas have almost all of their trails open. Given the characteristics of man-made snow, it tends to stick around longer than the natural stuff. Ski areas are also experts at preserving their snow pack to make sure that they’ll have enough to last them through their scheduled closing. In a good year, they squirrel away more than they need and their trails remain plastered well beyond their close date. But for some reason, as soon as their lifts stop running, people stop showing up, and they are completely ignored as a skiing option. In truth, there are vast pistes sitting silently around us which are free of skiers and just waiting to be skied. For the price of a little sweat, we can be cruising (un)groomers well into May.
This is a particularly good development for those who have been looking to get a taste of backcountry skiing, but are uncertain about venturing into the wilderness to find it. While you won’t find powder, you will most likely find powder’s hot cousin: corn snow.
Most people flock to Mt. Washington or the few open resorts during Spring to find her, but why fight the hordes at Tuckerman’s or nudge elbows with strangers on a slowly disappearing ribbon of snow at the big resorts when corn is waiting on the open slopes of a nearby (closed) mountain?
If you don’t have specialized backcountry equipment, don’t fret. Throw those skis over your shoulder and make your own boot ladder up a steep groomer; even better if you have a pair of snowshoes to help you stay afloat on soft snow.
Best of all, once you’ve caught the backcountry bug, you’re right smack dab in the middle of winter equipment clearance season, which will allow you to get ready for next winter without having to sell your youngest.
So Mr. Anonymous Blog Commenter, you have no excuses. Get your butt out on the mountain, do a little hiking, and find out what this backcountry thing is all about!