By Dan Egan EBS Columnist
Skiing around the mountain in the flurries of the late spring storm this week, I was thinking about how in Montana, winter doesn’t yield to spring easily. Rather, it fights to hold on and reminds us that transitioning from one season to the next requires patience, tenacity and resilience.
Then I started to reflect on this past season and the memories with friends, family and strangers among fresh snow and endless turns—the winter of 2020-21 will not soon be forgotten with the cloud of COVID-19 that hung over us all. This season focused a spotlight on the overarching need for recreation, outdoors and each other. Like winter, the pandemic is lingering, clinging on and is requiring both a collective and individual perseverance.
Overall, let us tip our hats to the resorts that forged ahead with an uncertain future and provided an incredible season across the country that offered so much enjoyment for all of us. After enduring safety protocols, masking up, attempts at socially distanced lift lines, I would say well done ski resorts and thank you for providing access to the mountains.
You didn’t have to go beyond the parking lots to see the amount of people that were soaking up winter sports. Families and friends gathered around tailgates, booting up, grilling lunch and creating après ski parties at the end of the day. This festive spirit could was present at many resorts and I for one was moved by just how much people appreciated and wanted to enjoy the pleasure of winter.
With the onset of the spring weather, this appreciation has been amplified. Just judging from the retro outfits, I would say people are longing for days gone by. Why not? Spring skiing in soft snow is a delight. To maximize a spring skiing day, remember it is about timing and heading toward the east facing slopes first as the rest of the mountain shakes off the evening freeze. You have to allow enough time for the surfaces to soften from rough frozen tundra to the velvet corn snow we all crave.
When you get it right, the snow peels away under your skis or snowboard and the ride is smooth. Often, it’s the groomed slopes that corn up first, which means it’s a time to focus on the quality of the turns and the quantity or the steepness of the slope rather than seeking out the smooth surfaces.
I always remind people that when skiing in the soft spring snow, bring your feet close together to create a wide stable platform to stand on. Make long, wide turns to allow the wide base of the skis to move the snow away under your feet.
The other benefit of this wide stable platform and making long wide turns is that it limits the twisting and torque on your joints, which often can be increased in softer sticky snow. The end result will be a balanced, efficient, smooth, stable run through the soft and the thick spring snow.
Spring skiing is special because it is social, people are happy, outfits are creative and fun and music can be heard from the base of the resort. If you listen in the wind, a collective sigh welcomes the longer days and blue skies.
However, winter has a strange way of holding on. It likes to linger through April with heavy wet snow, strong winds and dark skies shadowing the early spring which comes to life with birds chirping and the strong smell of pine amongst the flurries. It’s an annual friendly battle in which winter is destined to lose and spring survives.
This annual struggle is apropos to this year’s COVID-19 situation, the disease is fighting to linger, the vaccine is providing relief from the constant tension of the past twelve months and it is renewing our spirits. I’m not sure what the “new normal” will be, but I do know that in this time of year, hope springs eternal. Just like the stubborn winter grip, I for one am going to hold on to that as I make my last turns of the season, milking the last bit of enjoyment out of every turn—be it corn or powder snow.
Extreme Skiing Pioneer, Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His steep camps run Feb. 25-27, March 4-6 and March 11-13. His newest book, Thirty Years in a White Haze will be released in February, for pre-orders visit www.White-Haze.com for autographed copies.