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Not all days are freezing cold on the mountain. Some days the clouds clear, the sun comes out and the temperatures begin to rise. Typically towards the end of the season in spring time, its not uncommon for the temperatures to be above 0°C (32°F) and the snow begins to melt. You might be wondering so how do you ski on melting snow?
In warm weather, the snow conditions are more likely to be slushy and sticky and have some small patches of re-freeze where melted snow has frozen in colder nighttime temperatures. If the base of snow is thick (usually in valleys) or the slope is shaded, it will take much longer to melt and the snow will stay firmer, and in better condition for longer.
Skiing in the spring brings lots of benefits. Spring skiing is generally cheaper, being off-peak season, most resorts tend to offer incentives for you to hit the slopes. This coupled with less people makes for cheaper accomodation, less queues and more time on less crowded runs.
There are a few downsides, the snow conditions won’t always be ideal and there will be much less chance of fresh powder. The upside is there will be still be runs with great snow, and it will feel ‘warm’ (maybe even sunny) compared with mid-season weather.
Watch out for some areas of the mountain that have a thin base layer of snow and exposed rocks or grit that could damage your skis. The resort will be working hard to put up signs and repair snow, but you’ll need to be a bit more cautious in spring time – especially when traversing off-piste.
It’s a great time of year to learn to ski, when the snow is slower and the cost is cheaper. The only problem is, the season might be over just as you’re getting into the swing of things!
Reasons to ski in the spring:
- ✅ Cheaper lift pass.
- ✅ Cheaper accomodation.
- ✅ Less people on the slopes.
- ✅ Not as cold.
- ✅ More sun.
Downsides of warm weather skiing:
- ❌ More chance of slushy snow.
- ❌ Less chance of fresh powder.
- ❌ Beware or rocks & grass in some areas.
- ❌ Some ski runs will begin to close.
How to ski on melting snow?
The first thing to know about skiing on melting snow is that it’s got more friction that typical snow and so makes you ski slower the usual.
If the snow is particularly slushy it can make your skis feel heavier and slow you down quicker. The higher water content in the snow, creates a film of moisture between the ski and the snow which has more ‘sticky-ness’ than fluffy snow crystals.
On slushy snow your skiing needs to be a bit more precise than usual and it help to make wider more rounded turns so you’re not knackered out by the end of the run. (The more shaded or the deeper the snow is, the more firm and hard-packed it will be)
Your more likely to get sprayed with water from slush or snow crystals that quickly melt on contact with clothing, so as always so it’s a good idea to be wearing ski clothing with high waterproofing and breathability (you’ll definitely be sweating more).
If the heavens open up, it’s more likely to rain than snow, so staying dry is more of a challenge
How to ski while it’s raining?
You can ski while it’s raining and it won’t instantly melt all the snow, but it will make the snow slushier (until it re-freezes at night and makes it icier).
It’s not dangerous to ski while it’s raining, but you’ll need to be more cautious in reduced visibility and make sure that you don’t get soaked to the bone. You’re much more likely to get cold or hyperthermic if you’re wet and the windchill picks up.
P.S I wrote a whole article on skiing while its raining and the effect it has on your skiing here.
Wet snow that re-freezes in the night poses a greater risk for early morning skiers and requires you take a slightly wider stance and ski on these icy sections similar to how you would on hard packed snow.
Watch out for rocks ⚠️
As the snow melts, the base layer gets thiner and thiner and in some areas will start to expose rocks or gritty snow.
This grit, grass or rocks will easily scratch your skis or do more permanent damage.
It’s easy to spot – look for discolored or black spots and avoid skiing too close to the edge of the trails. Typically the snow will be more rocky the lower down the mountain (higher temperature) you go and the more exposed the terrain is (more sun).
With warmer temperatures comes less layers and more exposed skin. The sun is usually up for longer and at a more direct angle, so wear plenty of suncream and lip-balm and protect yourself from the UV. If you want to ditch the ski goggles, bring a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Use spring ski wax
In warm weather, the type of wax you put on your skis will help you glide better through the snow.
Spring wax is softer and designed specifically for warmer weather. It will reduce friction and make your skis slid faster and more smoothly through wet or slushy snow.
Warm weather wax comes in three versions, hydrocarbon, low-fluorocarbon (LF) and high-fluorocarbon (HF) -the latter is more hydrophobic (water adverse) and better at whicking water away for a better glide, but is also more expensive and generally used by racers (source). For most skiers, hydrocarbon or LF waxes will be fine.
Best Spring Wax for 2019
Wax for warm weather skiing – (Early or late season☀️):
- ZUMWax Ski Racing Wax – check the current price.
Advanced: Apply Hand structure
Racing skiers often use a roller to imprint a pattern into the base of the ski. This helps channel water away from the ski and back off onto the snow for a faster glide. Most skiers don’t need to worry about hand structure, but if you’re interested in seeing if it makes a difference to your warm weather skiing, ask at your local ski shop if they can do it for you at the same time as applying your spring wax.
The highest ski resorts generally have the longest season, because it take more time for the temps to rise and melt the remaining snow.
High Resorts in Europe 🇪🇺
*In order of latest closing date.
📌Sierra Nevada, Spain 🇪🇸 Read my ski guide.
⛰Highest ski lift: 3,100m+. Closes: May 12th
📌Val Thorens, France 🇫🇷
⛰Highest ski lift: 3,200m. Closes: May 5th
📌Val d’isere, France 🇫🇷
⛰Highest ski lift: 3,456m. Closes: May 1st
📌Obergurgl-hochgurgl, Austria 🇦🇹
⛰Highest ski lift: 3,082m. Closes: April 30
📌La plagne, France 🇫🇷
⛰Highest ski lift: 3,250m. Closes:April 28
📌Les arcs, France 🇫🇷
⛰Highest ski lift: 3,226m Closes: April 28
📌Avoriaz, France 🇫🇷
⛰Highest ski lift: 2,466m. Closes: April 22
📌Courchevel, France 🇫🇷
⛰Highest ski lift: 2,700m. Closes: April 22
📌Lech-zuers, Austria 🇦🇹
⛰Highest ski lift: 2,444m. Closes: April
Data: source, Closing time based on 2019 season. Season end is typically weather and snow cover dependent.
🇺🇸 USA: East Coast
📌Killington Resort, Vermont
⛰Closes: May 26
📌Jay Peak, Vermont
⛰Closes: May 12
⛰Closes: May 5
🇺🇸 USA: Midwest
📌Mount Bohemia, Michigan
📌Ski Brule, Michigan
⛰Closes: May 15
📌Mount Bohemia, Michigan
🇺🇸 USA: West
📌Arapgahoe Basin, Colorado
⛰Closes: June 2
📌Loveland Ski Area, Colorado
⛰Closes: May 2
⛰Closes: April 27
📌Mt. Bachelor, Oregon
⛰Closes: April 27
⛰Closes: May 26
📌Mammoth Mountain, California
⛰Closes: May 26
📌Crystal Mountain Resort, Washington
⛰Closes: May 18
Skiing in warmer weather can be great fun and there’s lots of perks that come with avoiding the high prices and mid-season crows. All you need to do is keep an eye out for rocks, slush and ice!