What do goggle-tans, mogul skis, and sun pits all have in common? Those are the tell tale signs that it is spring on the mountain. Although it’s T-shirt weather in town, there is still a lot of excellent skiing to be had in the mountains. Warm days and cool nights have created legendary spring skiing conditions!
During these spring like conditions, the snow pack is still very active. A process known as a melt-freeze cycle dominates the upper snow pack. With daytime warming of the surface snow, free water collects between the individual snow crystals. With the evening re-freeze, this free water creates a larger snow crystal, as well as a firm crust on the snow’s surface. Once warmed again in the morning, the surface softens to reveal extremely fun skiing conditions. Commonly called “corn snow”, this is the preferred snow condition for the spring ‘Hot Dogger’, performing sick spreads, and shredding the Boom Guts.
Predicting avalanches can be extremely difficult this time of year. In general, warming of the snow pack means weakening of the snow pack. This is often when persistent buried weak layers can become active; slabs become easier to trigger, and cornices can fail naturally. Of primary concern are the solar aspects. Slopes that face Southeast to West are feeling the full force of the hot sun each day. Those are also the slopes that tend to have a variable and weaker snow pack, with many likely trigger points. If you are venturing into the backcountry this is the time of year to exercise extra caution, and avoid those suspect slopes especially in the midday sunshine. Stay safe and have fun!
The entire Fernie Alpine Resort Ski Patrol would like to extend a big thank you for your cooperation, and for making this another legendary ski season. Have a safe summer!
We would like to thank Steve Ruskay, our Fernie Ski Patrol correspondent for contributing to the Fix over our winter months, providing our readers interesting facts and safety tips.