To say this winter has been “epic” would be an understatement;
historic is a much more accurate way to describe winter in Colorado this year.
The Arkansas River basin is at about 145% of normal with regards to snow water equivalent [Figure 1]. These numbers are sure to delight the boating crowd, but they also point to the potential for some amazing spring skiing and riding. A deep and robust late-season snowpack in the Arkansas Valley is going to lead to one of the best spring ski seasons in recent memory!
So what exactly happens to the snowpack as the seasons transition from winter to spring?
A process called melt-freeze metamorphism drives this seasonal change in the snowpack, and it has already began affecting the snowpack on sunny slopes and at lower elevations. During this process, water percolates through the snowpack on warm sunny days and then freezes up the snow grains during cold, clear nights. When the liquid water freezes at night it essentially locks up the snow crystals and makes them very strong until the sun and warmer temperatures soften them up the next day.
The finished product of melt-freeze metamorphism is referred to as “corn snow” [Figure 2]. On a clear and chilly spring morning your skis or board won’t be able to penetrate into the snow surface because the entire snowpack is frozen solid. The upper snowpack will progressively soften as the sun comes out and the day warms up. When your skis or board sink down a few inches in the upper snowpack then you have found perfect corn! If you find yourself sinking in more than a few inches then it is time to move to shadier slopes or get off steep terrain.
Spring riders and ski/snowboard mountaineers take advantage of these melt-freeze cycles to get out and explore big steep lines in the backcountry. Personally, springtime is my favorite time to play in the mountains around Buena Vista; the days are long, the travel conditions are fast [Figure 3] and the snowpack becomes more predictable. Remember that starting early and getting off steep slopes before they get too much sun and become wet and sticky is essential for safe travel when dealing with spring conditions.
Ski Mountaineering & Guided Backcountry Skiing / Splitboarding
The staff here at BVMA also loves to take advantage of the amazing spring riding conditions in the Arkansas Valley. This year, we are offering a Ski Mountaineering Skills course from May 3 – May 5 with an AMGA Ski Guide, and will continue to offer guided backcountry ski tours for guests on great lines in the Cottonwood Pass area through May.
Come enjoy an awesome Spring Ski season with BVMA
John is an AMGA Rock & Ski Guide, and partner with BVMA. He lives in Leadville with his wife, Reed, and 8-week old daughter, Eleanor. If there is snow in the mountains, he can usually be found somewhere in the Sawatch Zone with skis on his feet or on his backpack.
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