Spring is one of the best times to get out into the backcountry on your splitboard. The days are longer, the temperature is milder, snow stability is generally better, and BBQ’s and brews back at the car after a good session are commonplace. Not to mention, as temperatures warm up many outdoor enthusiasts make a premature transition to summer mode leaving the skin track nice and quiet.
Here are a couple of our favorite things about spring splitboarding that keep us stoked on snow well beyond when most people are thinking about winter sports. Plus, we have some helpful hints about skin storage and board preparation when you are finally ready to call it quits for the year.
Shredding corn snow is almost as much fun as riding pow, almost. Corn snow is formed by the repeated freezing and thawing of the snow pack which creates large, rounded snow crystals (aka corn). Timing is very important in the spring; get out too early and the snow can still be dangerously icy, too late, and it can be too slushy or sticky. The sweet spot occurs when the corn snow is ‘ripe,’ meaning the bonds between all the large, rounded crystals are just beginning to breakdown. This is usually found mid-morning or late in the afternoon as it begins to cool again. The timing of when the snow ‘corns up’ is highly aspect dependent, so give that some thought as you plan your departure. Google Earth is awesome for route planning, and also has a time slider (upper left of picture) which will show you what aspects are getting sunlight at certain times of the day. This can be extremely helpful in determining when you should get out.
Check out Avalanche Educator Shaun Nauman’s presentation at the Silverton Splitfest for an idea of how he uses Google Earth when trip and route planning.
In the heart of winter, there are some lines and zones that are never or are rarely ‘in’ due to the snowpack. Making a smart but conservative decision on lines that look so good is tough but ultimately the safest approach. These decisions are easier for the patient backcountry rider who knows that many of these lines will be good come spring when the warm weather solidifies the once sketchy slopes. Shredding a line you’ve been eyeballing and researching all winter is well worth the wait and extremely gratifying.
There are always some epic days in the winter that end before you’d like. The snow is perfect and the crew is having a blast, but by 4pm it’s getting pretty dark and it’s time to make for the trailhead. While you need to always be conscious of the time in the backcountry, it is not nearly as big of a concern come April. The extra daylight gives you time to plan a longer approach, hike one more couloir, or just relax and enjoy being back in the mountains with your friends. If you’re planning for a long day it’s a good idea to check what time sunset is before you head out.
There are many reasons people choose backcountry riding over resort riding. We won’t list them all but something many backcountry riders share is their enjoyment of the solitude found touring in the backcountry. Each season more people are venturing out into the backcountry. As a whole, if done responsibly, we feel this is a good thing – but it means sharing the skin track with more people. In the spring, a lot of folks who are active in the backcountry during the winter, begin transitioning into summer sports like hiking and mountain biking. This means less people on the skin track and in your favorite zones during the spring! Let them tear up the single track; there is good snow at higher elevations just waiting for the splitboarder who is not ready to say goodbye to winter.
Additional Keys to Success
Glop Stopper – A special wax that keeps the sticky snow from building up on your skins. Apply liberally at the trailhead.
Crampons – During that freeze and thaw cycle you often encounter some icy skin tracks in the morning. Crampons can help you charge dicey terrain to score the best conditions for the ride down.
Additional Water – You’re getting a lot of sun and sweating more. Carry more water than you do on your normal winter excursions.
Sun Protection – This may sound obvious, but it is astounding how many people come back from a day in the mountains with severe sunburn. Some high SPF sunscreen and a good hat can go a long way to keeping the sun’s rays off your skin.
A Safety Note
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security during the spring. You are still in the backcountry and spring avalanches still occur. Any number of different types of avalanche problems can still exist – take a look back in the Spark blog archives to check out Clark Corey’s blog on spring riding. Clark’s blog is really informative and covers some potential spring hazards on a more detailed level. Be especially aware of rapidly warming temperatures when touring in the spring. If you are seeing wet sluff, roller balls, you’re punching through to manky snow, or the slush is becoming boot top height, it’s best to call it a day
Hints for Summer Storage
Skins – First, make sure your skins are dry before you store them. Second, use a skin saver, people! This will help keep your skin glue in better shape than simply sticking the two skins together. Lastly, store the skins somewhere cool and dry. Be wary of garages that bake in the sun, or even, gasp…, the trunk of your car. Both could potentially get way too hot and damage the glue. There are few more details on how to apply the skin saver on our skin tech page.
Board – First, give your board a nice hot wax before the summer hiatus. The base is probably thirsty from all the corn snow shredding anyway, let it spend the off-season in comfort with some fresh wax. If you really want that base to soak up some wax and be protected, you can leave it un-scraped until the fall. Store the board somewhere dry, not too hot, and preferably in a storage bag. We all know how expensive backcountry gear can be, don’t neglect it in the summer – make sure it’s good to go for that early storm cycle next October.
Ahh spring! We love the bountiful corn harvest, open lines, and empty skin tracks. The Bridger Mountains in our backyard are currently in prime spring shape; we plan on splitboarding into June!