Its the middle of April and 12-foot snow banks line the walls of the narrow road. Etched in these snow banks are 37 wavy brown lines clearly defining each snowfall this past winter, not unlike the rings on a tree trunk that define the age of the tree. It has been a good winter, with some of the brown lines of dust and dirt separating the many storms by five or six inches, while others are only an inch or two apart.
I stopped at Snoqualmie Pass en route from my winter home at the Yellowstone Club in Montana. All of the chairlifts at Snoqualmie Pass are already shut down for the season. In all of the parking lots at nearby Alpental, there are only 43 cars, even with five chairlifts running, a clear blue sky, warm spring sunshine and 10 feet of snow topped by a quarter of an inch of perfectly groomed corn snow.
When I finally arrived home to the island, I did a little research. There are many articles about spring skiing that have appeared in the various ski publications that Ive been collecting for the last 50 years. Every spring, we write about how great spring skiing is. Yet, despite the tens of thousands of words written about spring skiing, almost no one pays any attention to our opinion, including ski resort management. Instead, they all gear up in October so they can have bragging rights about being the first resort in the state of (fill in the blank) to open for the early ski season.
Resorts staff up for the Thanksgiving weekend so everyone who shows up can muck around on man-made snow, sometimes defined as ice, that has been shot out of guns at incredible expense. While skiers and snowboarders are wrecking their equipment on natural rocks that stick up out of the man-made snow, the equipment manufacturers delight in this early season opening because so many people wreck last years $700 skis and have to buy new stuff for their next trip. On the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, the only people using the expensive man-made snow are the season pass holders and 60 per cent of the local labor force, who are without work until the weekend before Christmas. They already have their employee season passes and are very glad that no discount snowriders will be standing in line in front of them until Christmas.
Skiers flock to the resorts in the early season; however, very few people ever experience the wonderful corn snow and almost deserted runs that are available in the spring. Imagine just skiing down the hill, making your last turn around the bottom of the chairlift and then sitting down to ride back up on an almost empty quad chair. Theres no standing in line for five, ten, or twenty minutes just to get a seat on a chairlift. Following the sun, you get to ski all day in that quarter-of-an-inch of corn snow that gives you the same feeling of freedom that powder snow does.
During lunch, you dont have to stand around inside the base lodge with your feet in half an inch of water that has dripped out of everyones clothes and boots because there has been freezing rain all morning, forcing half of the people at old Crotched Mountain to sit in the lodge and dry out. Instead, in the spring you can sit in the hot sun on the porch of the base lodge and soak up the rays. You can make your turns in a light nylon shell and sunscreen instead of two sets of long underwear. After lunch, you can snooze in the warm spring sun and stare at the sun with your eyes shut. Thirty minutes of this sun staring and relaxation a day, and youll look like you just got back from a week of windsurfing in Maui.
There are hundreds of articles about spring skiing that no one has paid any attention to in the past. Theres a good chance that no one will pay any attention to this one either. But take it from someone who has enjoyed spring skiing every year since 1947, the last week or two that your ski resort operates is the best time of the year to ski. There are no people, no lift lines, low prices, and you dont even have to put chains on your car to get there, nor do you have to wear three of everything just to stay warm.
I know for a fact that several of the resorts are still open. Some will even be open for a few more weeks. Do it this year and you will save some of that discretionary time and money that you spend in November. Ive been saying it for years, "If you dont do it this year, youll be one year older when you do."