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Nordic Column: More crust!

Jeffrey Russell
For Sky-Hi News
In spring, varying temperatures cause the surface of the remaining winter snow to harden into a crust. The result: some of the best skate skiing of the year.
Jeffrey Russell/Courtesy Photo

I’m beginning to think of wind as a four-letter word. The furious winds of this past week have put a sudden end to grooming at Snow Mountain Ranch for the season due to downed trees and forest litter scattered over the trails. Devil’s Thumb is holding out with snowmobile grooming through the end of the weekend. While neither area made it to Easter this year, we give thanks to our local touring centers for seeing us through two years of a pandemic, providing us with a place to go and recreate with relative normalcy. We would love to keep the season going, but understand that skier demand is dwindling as skiers transform into runners, bikers, hikers and other land-based recreationists. Committed skiing enthusiasts will continue to enjoy crusted meadows, perhaps even following the snow up to higher elevations to extend the season further.

Crust season has indeed arrived and has proven to be of quite decent quality! The morning snowpacks have been solid on many days, with supportive snow lingering until the sun is high in the sky. Conditions have varied from corrugated and mildly sun-cupped to satin smooth, with occasional thin fresh snow layers providing a bit of texture to give the edges a little something to bite into, as well as whitening up the surface which ultimately helps it melt just a little slower. In some cases, south-facing aspects have melted out quickly, limiting terrain choices and revealing the thinness and fragility of the veneer of snow that barely covered the sagebrush and ground cover of exposed ridges. Elsewhere, in darkest forest shade, dry powder can still be found in spare amounts, but the sun-splashed and glazed meadow expanses are the main attraction.

The biggest appeal of skiing on the crust is the freedom and sense of adventure found when you’re released from the confines of the trail. Exploration is possible without leaving a trace, without needing a map and led by whim and whimsy. Glassy, flat seas of white might extend as far as the eyes can see up and down the valley. Rolling wind-blown drifts or evenly covered boulders create smooth mounds of various sizes and shapes, providing rounded, sensuous surfaces to slide one’s skis over. Freedom to roam… not to be taken for granted!



This freedom is just the ticket for casual and competitive skiers alike. As much as it is fun, it can be a rejuvenating break from rigorous training. For the competitive skier, crust season can be a psychological respite from developing the mental toughness it takes to be a strong racer. Spring is a time to let the body and mind recover and to recharge the batteries before preparing to start the process of goal-oriented training and skiing all over again.

The 100+ mph winds that ripped through the valley earlier in the week were the strongest recorded in the state, knocking trees over and shutting down power as well as ski lifts. Those winds will undoubtedly have loaded leeward slopes to the east, creating heavy unstable loads along the crest of the Divide as well as in our east-facing corniced cirques up by Berthoud Pass. They will likely need some time and a few cycles of temperature fluctuation to consolidate sufficiently to be considered stable. Beware the wind-slab! Enjoy the snow safely!



 


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