Tips for Spring Ski Touring

April 20, 2015 Vince Shuley

Spring ski touring is the best touring. Why? Because the alpine snowpack is deep, probably the deepest it’s been all season. The days are longer, allowing you to push well into the evening before breaking out the head lamp. The weather is (usually) better with prolonged high pressure systems allowing consecutive days of alpine travel without the fear of incoming snow storms that lock you into camp or force an early expedition retreat.

Fedchenko Glacier ski touring expedition
Spring touring in May on Fedchenko Glacier, Tajikistan | Photo Vince Shuley

Spring in the resort is usually associated with slushy snow, alpine corn conditions and the odd pond skimming competition (though ponds were being skimmed a lot earlier this season due to several large Pineapple Express rain events in the Pacific Northwest). The backcountry can vary from boot-deep blower pow to sun affected crust, depending on the weather and the slope aspect. Temperatures can range from bitterly cold in the mornings to tropical heat in the afternoon. All these factors come into play when planning your spring ski touring trip, here’s a few tips to make it as smooth a ride as possible.

Caked ski touring skins Vince Shuley
Time for a wax? Spring powder can get sticky | Photo Vince Shuley

Don’t forget to wax
Having a fresh coat of wax on your ski or snowboard bases is essential in the spring. With said temperature gradients warming the snow rapidly, dry bases can feel sticky and cumbersome. Choose a warm weather wax (e.g. -5 C to + 5 C) for optimum glide.
The same applies for your skins (yes, waxing skins is a thing). There’s two ways you can go about helping stop your skins getting water logged and having pounds of snow sticking to them. First is to preemptively apply a wax like Black Diamond’s Globstopper or Nikwax Ski Skin Proof. Many folk will wait until they are in the field to apply Globstopper, at which point the skins are already wet. So remember to do your prep work the night before.
The other way is to lightly apply regular ski wax to the skin with a waxing iron. This is a trick used by randonee racers who can win or lose their race depending on how their skins perform. The application is a bit tricky but worth it if you’re heading out for some serious spring travel. Check out this article on evo.com for a closer look at applying wax to skins.

Holly Walker Fedchenko 2014 Vince Shuley
Softshell is more breathable, suitable for aerobic activities. Holly Walker at 4,500m in the Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan | Photo Vince Shuley

Soften the shell
Every backcountry skier has Gore-Tex garments in the gear closet. After all, staying dry is key to staying warm in the winter. In the spring however, breathability is king. By subbing your Pro Shell pants for a lighter, stretchier softshell equivalent, you’ll be able to slog for hours on a sun baked glacier without sweating buckets. The same goes for jackets and gloves.

Hydrate smart
The typical one litre (32 oz) Nalgene bottle may be enough for day trips mid-winter, but in the spring heat be ready to consume at least twice that. Electrolyte tablets such as Nuun are great for assisting re-hydration, the taste is more thirst quenching and it will help moderate water consumption throughout the day. You can also top up your bottle by throwing in a handful of snow here and there, but adding too much at once can cause your water bottle to freeze completely. Then you’re really screwed.

skull Vince Shuley
Hydrate or die | Photo Vince Shuley

The crossover season has begun, but don’t let the snow leave without giving it a warm farewell.