Gathering the Harvest: Corn Snow Delight
| By Snowsports Journalist Daniel Gibson |
Just when you think the season here is winding down, a clandestine storm slips over the northern border and lays down some of the biggest snowfall of the winter, while barely making an impression on our urban centers. A conditions report follows, but before that here’s a look at squeezing the most out of the more typical conditions this time of year skiing, or boarding, on that beloved snow surface known as corn.
Spring skiing is a whole different ball game than skiing in the dead of winter. The weather can be glorious, but the balmy temperatures can also create difficult snow conditions and a new set of technical problems to master. The keys that have worked for you all winter do not always translate to these new conditions. Here are some tips for spring skiing.
Snow that melts during the day and then freezes at night eventually turns into what is called “corn snow,” due to its kernel-like quality. Corn can be glorious stuff to ski or board, providing a silky ride and terrific edge hold, but there are some things to keep in mind to get the most out of this unique type of snow.
One of the most important tricks is to simply wait until the daily air temperature has risen above freezing and the snow has softened up. Icy corn snow is one of the most difficult surfaces you could dream up to ski on — sometimes known as “death cookies.” But corn will usually soften up around 10 a.m., if it is sunny, allowing you to catch a bit more sleep in the mornings — not a bad thing!
At the other end of the day, the corn will get progressively heavier and wetter, and thus more difficult to ski, and in the warmest conditions, impossible as suction between the board or ski bases and the puddles on the surface stop one dead in their tracks. On a good day, it will be best between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so you might think of knocking off early.
Of course, cloud cover can play havoc with these normal cycles. If heavy clouds are predicted, you might start even later and stay later, or skip it altogether if it’s not expected to get above freezing, as the corn will never soften.
Narrow your stance and ski as if your two skis were one big water ski. This will help keep your skis from separating and catching an edge.
And ski long-radius turns. When corn is in its prime condition, you can ski or board like a hero. Your edges bite nicely, allowing you to carve like a demon. But as the snow softens even more, short turns in the mush will wear you out. You will need some momentum to plow through afternoon spring snow, so open up and make larger turns. But, avoid skidding turns. Skids will take you sideways through lots of lumpy piles of snow, which can throw you off balance. Practice making nice, big, cleanly carved turns. Put those edges to work!
Consider the Aspect
Aspect is the directional orientation of the slope — north, south, east, or west. Most New Mexico’s ski areas are on predominately north-facing slopes, which are much colder and hold snow better. But some ski areas have runs facing east or west as well. For optimum spring skiing, early in the day seek out runs that face east or, even more rare, south, as they will soften soonest. Later in the day move to runs facing west as they begin to melt. And, when everything is getting too soupy, stick to north-facing runs, as they will have the firmest snow.
There is also another type of spring snow that is hard to master — powder that’s been cooked by the heat into “mashed potatoes” or that most dreaded of snows, “crud.” Crud is dense, cut-up snow — mashed potatoes that have been skied on — and early in the day often sporting a layer of ice on top. Skiing late-season powder requires some of the techniques noted above, as well as some different moves. First off, ideally, ski it early in the day, before the sun melts it.
Begin a turn in heavy powder with a strong up movement, ideally one that actually puts the skis or board in the air. This upward hop is created by a powerful thrust of the heels into the snow to create a stable pad to spring upward from and to keep your tips from diving and allowing the ski to pivot. Also in common with corn skiing, keep your skis relatively close together.
Now get out and enjoy the waning days of the 2020–2021 season!
Ski Santa Fe picked up a surprising 21 inches over the previous two days, and has a nice 60-inch base. Some 81 of 86 runs are open.
Taos Ski Valley was blessed with 25 inches, taking its base to a plump 77 inches at mid-Shalako, and 92 at the top of Chair 7, with more predicted to be on the way.
Wolf Creek saw 26 inches fall and now has a cushy base of 111 inches at mid-mountain. It has received 330 inches of snow so far this season. All runs are open. The Meadow Loop, Fun Loop and Lake Spur Nordic Trails were groomed and track set on March 15. Limited food options are available at the Wolf Creek Lodge and Prospector Grill, with outdoor seating.
Angel Fire Resort saw 15 inches fall, and reports a 39-inch base. All runs but four are open.
Red River received 19 inches, pushing its base to an excellent 50 inches. Its last day of the season will be March 21.
Pajarito was barely brushed by the storm, and has a 22-inch base. However, almost every run is open, except those in the Townsight section. It is open Wednesdays – Sundays.
Sipapu received 7 inches over the past day, and has a 45-inch base. Its Chair 4 has reopened, providing access to its most challenging runs, including Gamble Glade and Gamble Chutes.
Sandia Peak has closed for the season.
Ski Apache reports a 44-inch base but only six runs open. It is operating Thursdays-Sundays.
Crested Butte has a 57-inch base, with 152 of 160 runs open, all 15 lifts running and both terrain parks in operation.
Monarch Mountain picked up 15 inches, boosting its base to a comfortable 62 inches. All runs are open.
Telluride was slammed with three feet over the past week, and now has a 69-inch base, with 217 inches total snowfall so far. It has 133 runs of 148 open, all 17 lifts running and of 148 open, and all lifts running.
Purgatory has its best base of the season, sitting on 53 inches. All runs and its four terrain parks are open. On March 21, the resort will host Demo Days, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for $20. Many leading brands will be offered from local shops.
Arizona Snowbowl saw 50 inches of fluff all this week, and has a 65-inch base. All runs are open, including hike-to terrain, and three of four terrain parks.
Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including Powder, Ski and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via www.DanielBGibson.com.
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