Spring skiing is one of the many pleasures of the ski season. Warm days, blue skies and sunshine. It is like the reward for enduring the cold windy weather in the heart of winter.
With the change in weather comes a change in conditions and for the best experience on the snow you need to adapt the way you approach your skiing and how your equipment is tuned.
If you’ve been out skiing already this year in the high alps with cold crisp snow, you’ll probably have quite a closed structure on your ski. In warmer spring skiing it would be beneficial to have a more open and coarse structure to allow the water in the snow when sunny and warm, to have the best opportunity to be dispersed from the base of the ski. There needs to be a balance of water; too much and the ski floats without actually sliding on the snow, and too little the base gets sticky and you stop. The other main factor is wax, wax, wax.
The snow that is around at the end of the season has seen cold days, warm days, sunny days and windy days. Because of this and the actions of warming and freezing, getting blown around and damaged – the crystal structure of the snow flake tines become damaged. In essence little nodules of irregular ice. In fresh snow when a ski passes over the top of the snowflakes the microscopic tines break off providing an element of mechanical lubrication. Older snow does not have the same tines to break off and is an irregular shape which can be much coarser against the base of the ski. The key is to ensure there is wax in the ski to help these odd shaped older snow crystals pass along the ski base.
Coarse snow (which in some cases is actually reformed ice) with its irregular shape can, at the microscopic level, be rough on the ski bases because the crystals will cut into the base as the ski travels over top. There can be a “drying” look on the bases especially on material close to the edge where it becomes white or furry. This is because the ski is under the most amount of pressure on its edge whilst carving and where the effect of the crystals in spring skiing will be shown.
If the ski has no obvious damage, then the best thing after it has been serviced is to get a good universal hot hand wax into the ski and make sure that the wax seeps deep into the pores of the base. From there, you can apply another hand wax and layer a warm weather wax on top. This provides in principle two levels of slipperiness to the ski. The first layer that is in contact with the snow is the warm weather wax best suited for the higher water content of the snow in the spring. Though it tends to be softer than cold weather wax the warmer condition wax is the right level of lubrication for those conditions. As that wax wears out over a day or 3 if it is not replaced the universal temperature wax will provide a better level of slipperiness than nothing at all. Finally though not really a layer is the ski base. It is already a very slippery substance, but as the waxes are used up and eradicated from the base, it will slow down compared to waxed equipment and ideally should be waxed for the next time out.
If you do not have the chance to do a hot hand wax whilst on holiday, a good option would be either a rub on wax or a wax spray or wipe. Again, if you have a good structure on the ski and a good universal wax in place a rub on or a spray wax will help in the wet conditions when a hot warm weather wax is not an option.
Of course if you need any guidance or tips and tricks speak to one of our workshop technicians who will be able to help answer many questions about the specific needs of your equipment.
With regards to the tactics of skiing in the spring – these conditions can throw up many snow types in one day or one run. Without a dump of fresh snow, in general terms the cycles of warmer weather skiing you would likely see in resort in the morning “Boiler Plate” where groomed wet snow has frozen hard and icy, moving to softer corn snow in the day, then on to slush late in the afternoon. One of the key items when faced with these conditions is to recognise what is underfoot and adapt your skiing to the conditions at hand.
With an icy slope and sharp equipment, it is best to think of skiing like dipping your toe into a warm bath. You wouldn’t jump straight in to a bath without testing the water first – same with an icy slope. Be gentle on and off the edges allowing the ski edge to bite into the slope to grip and carve. This allows the skier the chance to balance to the ski edge progressively. Creating a sharp edge angle and edging aggressively can overload the ski edge causing it to lose grip and slide – and thus the skier too – not balancing on the ski or edge at all. Like driving a car on ice, if you turn the steering wheel too quickly you will slide straight ahead – but gradually turn the wheel and feel your way around the corner letting the tires do the work you will be more successful.
As the day moves on and the conditions change to more granular corn snow on piste, the heavier snow (than fresh) it is important on piste to look ahead and anticipate the terrain. One key idea is to think about shuffling your feet slightly forward than you would normally ski as you approach variable conditions. This is not sitting back, more like straitening your ankle – scooting your feet ahead. This is important especially when you come across those conditions on slope with clumps of pushed up granular snow. If skiers are on the front of the boot as the ski makes contact with the heaver snow, the skis slow down and the upper body moves forward. This tends to put the skier off balance and too far forward. Instead, when approaching these types of snowy conditions, scooting the feet ahead allows the feet to slow down and the body to catch up and then as the skier travels through the difficult snow there is more of a chance of the skier being in balance. Visualise the action of peddling backwards but the action is done with both feet as you approach a bump or push pile.
Finally, at the end of the day if your legs still have oomph in them – the slushy conditions can still be enjoyable. Be careful though as the very wet and heavy snow with high water content makes skiing tough, skis will not react as they normally would and tired legs can lead to accidents. If in doubt, down load at the end of the day. However if you do plan to ski, taking the idea above of peddling backwards and variable conditions – the one of the tactics to skiing slush is to have a paradoxical mind-set. By this you want to be able to be in a strong, powerful and balanced position to plough through snow when needed – but be light on the edges and touch, plus be nimble in your line selection to avoid the skis getting stuck in the snow. A few tactics that can be helpful are to carry a bit more speed to allow the ski to float more in the wet conditions, and the other is to use terrain to help release edges and change direction.
By looking ahead and roughly planning a route, you can look for nodules or push piles on the slope that will naturally help raise the skier upwards and release the ski from the snow allowing for a direction change. The challenge with slushy snow is that skis can travel in and through the snow with an amount of weight on the top sheet, and the soft snow on the base side is difficult to displace when releasing from a turn. This adds to the difficulty of putting the ski on edge, and even more so taking it off, which is why looking for undulations in the terrain will help release the edges and make it easier to change direction.
Though the conditions in the spring can change even on an hourly basis, and it does take practice to find the right amount of power and light touch; by combining good ski preparation and acknowledging the conditions on hand and how to adapt your skiing to stay in balance, will help make spring skiing more enjoyable, less stressful and pleasurable in the warm spring sun.
Have Fun and Ski Safe!