Most skiers rave about the powder turns they got during the big dumps mid-winter, and while those moments give birth to spectacular memories, they are also fleeting. Truly great pow days are there and then they’re gone. First tracks are just that; when you’re resort skiing that blanket of fresh fluff gets cut up in the morning and there is no more until next time.
Corn skiing, on the other hand, is a totally different animal. All that blower powder that fell during those winter storm days has settled, compacted and gone through thaw-freeze cycles. Now it will transform into the delightful springtime skiing treasure we call corn.
The beauty of skiing corn is that the snow keeps getting better throughout the day if you play your cards right. That’s because you’re not looking for fresh snow, you’re following the sun. The sun warms the hard, frozen crust until it becomes a soft and delicious treat for you to swoop in and enjoy. As it migrates across the terrain, you choose your next lap based on what aspect has most recently ‘gone off’.
Spring is the best time for corn skiing, but because many ski resorts close well before the snow is gone it means you’re going to have to earn your turns. But that’s okay because touring at this time of year usually means nicer weather and fewer things to worry about with snowpack assessment and avalanche hazard. There are some things to know though to make your adventure one to remember for good reasons, rather than sulking home on the heels of sub-prime outing.
1. Check the Forecast For Corn
First, you’re going to have to watch the weather forecast. Corn only happens during the thaw part of the freeze-thaw cycle, so plan your tour for a morning when you know that the snowpack will get that cold reset followed by sunny, daytime warming. You may have to pull a dawn patrol start time to make sure that the snow isn’t going to get too soft before you reach the top of your hike, though. You want to ski just the top creamy layer without sinking boot deep in wet cement, so timing can be crucial.
2. Layer Strategically
Given that your start is going to be cold but the end of the day will be warm, you’ll have to pay special attention to your clothing selection. Layering strategically will give you the warmth you’ll want to ward off that pre-dawn chill as you’re gearing up and allow you to regulate as you start generating heat on the hike.
So what’s a good layering strategy to keep you happy and comfortable all day? Starting with a thin wicking layer underneath you can pull on something like the Alpha Softshell Jacket to give you some insulation and wind protection. The good thing about a softshell is that it will cut the wind enough and still breathe well to let out the sweat you’re going to generate. You’re always going to get sweaty, but if you get totally soaked you may get cold even if it’s a beautiful spring day. That said, it’s good to stash an extra base layer in your pack for a quick change at the top.
For a little extra protection from cold and to be prepared for the unexpected you may want to add a couple more pieces to your packing list. A Hybrid Down Sweater is an excellent lightweight, packable layer that can be worn until you’re good and warmed up and then easily stuff it into your pack. It’s also good to have when you make stops during the day, especially if the forecast was a little ambitious on the expected high temperature. If the weatherman really blows it, then having a compactable storm shell like the Light Armor Jacket stowed in your pack can really save your bacon should blue skies turn to snow or rain.
3. Pack These Handy Tools
You should of course pack enough food and water to stay fueled and hydrated for a fun day out, but there are a few items that can come in handy should you encounter some tricky situations. If you’re trying to gain elevation fast on steep, hard snow, then skins alone may not be enough to give you the traction you want. Complementing them with a set of crampons can make all the difference when traction is at a premium. The snow is probably going to get wet at some point though, and that can wreak havoc on your skins. Having some type of skin prep to keep your skins from balling up and weighing you down can make your hike way more pleasant and efficient.
4. Prepare for the Worst
We all like to think that nothing will go wrong on what is supposed to be a fun outing, but being prepared for the worst is always a good idea. Weather may roll in making navigation difficult, or what if you encounter an emergency situation and someone in your party gets injured? Having backcountry travel planning tools like the Backcountry Trekker Pro Toolkit and an Ultralight Rescue Sled in the group can make the difference between an unfortunate but otherwise seamless trip out or a full-fledged rescue.