Spring, Sunshine, and Skiing

Springtime in Colorado is a unique and exciting time because both summer and winter activities can flourish. The daily weather may remain unpredictable and variable, as per the usual Colorado standards, yet the warmer trends aid in making the snowpack much more widely accessible for backcountry travel. The faceted snow layers that are the greatest source of avalanche danger during the winter season become unified and solidified into what many call “spring corn snow.” The warmer temperatures during the day help thaw and melt the different layers that then refreeze during evenings.

The characteristics of this snowpack allow for very comfortable skiing conditions: soft, stable, and consistent—not only making more terrain safer but also making multiple types of terrain safer and more skiable.

Previously, any slopes over 30 degrees carried significantly more risk for avalanches, but as the layers become solidified and the overall amount of snow in the high country decreases, steeper aspects become an option.

However, spring snow is not without its dangers. The most common type of avalanche occurs when the temperatures get too warm for the snow to stay put, and it begins to slide as wet, loose slabs. These avalanches are not as destructive as slab avalanches, but they are of greater density than the drier snow of mid-winter. It is important to plan ahead and know what aspect you will be climbing and skiing—most importantly when the sun will be hitting those aspects. As a general rule, earlier is better, but specific timing will depend on your ascent speed and how long the approach is.

Spring backcountry skiing, however, does not always require long approaches and technical climbs. It can be a great alternative to resort skiing, and it can require minimal effort. A shuttle system on mountain passes provides access to great terrain, shortens the approach distance, and makes multiple runs a possibility. Thanks to some later spring storms, places like Independence Pass hold snow until the pass is open to drivers, usually around late May. Until then, Monarch Pass, Berthoud Pass, and Hoosier Pass are great local options. Pikes Peak also becomes skiable including couloir options, although these options may not happen until late spring or early summer.

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