Folks that do not live in Colorado make the assumption that skiing isn’t very good after the end of March. In fact after the warm March that was experienced in 2012, I’ve talked to out of state skiers who are reluctant to book ski vacations during the last two weeks of March. This is great for Colorado skiers because it keeps the tourists off the slopes and offers uncrowded slopes and small lift lines for those of us who continue to ski late in the season. I’ve lived in Colorado for 23 years and more often than not the ski areas close because of a lack of skiers, not because the snow coverage is too thin.
In addition unlike many skiers, I love the warm conditions that yield slushy snow that is the consistency of mashed potatoes. Occasionally one encounters these sort of conditions in April, but more often the snow is more similar to the middle of February. It is true that there is a higher likelihood of encountering icy crust early in the morning and this is probably the worst type of snow to ski on. The snow softens and thaws in the afternoon during the previous day and then freezes overnight creating hard rock solid crust where skiers pushed snow aside during their turns.
The answer to this downside to April skiing is to sleep in and enjoy a big breakfast. Wait for the sun to move higher in the sky and allow the strong rays to warm and soften the ugly crust. Is this a bad thing; sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely morning? Arrive at the ski lift at 11AM and you will be fortified and rested and eager to ski until the lifts close at 4PM. The late starter will experience the warmest air temperatures and the best snow of the day.
This is exactly what Jane and I did on Saturday, April 6. We took our time rising and ate a nice breakfast before departing Denver at 9:30AM. With minimal traffic on the interstate and clear weather we arrived at Vail and were in our skis ready to board the Vistabahn gondola by 11AM. Yes it was warm and slushy at the base, but by the time we got to Blue Sky Basin, some clouds blocked the sun and we had some great runs practically to ourselves with snow that approximated early season conditions. We skied in Blue Sky until 1:30PM and then hustled back to Two Elks for lunch since we thought it closed at 2. When we arrived we discovered the lodge did not close at 2PM, and in fact we received a 15% discount on our lunch because we ate after 2PM and had Epic Local passes. There were numerous empty tables to choose from.
After lunch the sky was more cloudy than sunny and we enjoyed some fine runs in the back bowls before navigating our way back down to Vail village. Of course the base was rather soupy by the time we removed our skis at 4PM. We checked the dashboard thermometer as we departed the Vail parking lot and it was 53 degrees. At the top of Vail pass the reading dropped to 38, a 15 degree differential. This explains the nice snow consistency in the Vail back bowls and Blue Sky Basin compared to the soft slush on the lower front side. By the way there was negligible traffic on the drive home with no delay at the small tunnel detour east of Idaho Springs.
I’m looking forward to more April skiing before closing the book on the spring season.