Steep shots: Spring skiing tactics

Emily A. Palm Mulica

Editor’s note: Today we’re introducing guest columnist Emily A.P. Mulica, who writes on skiing and the outdoors for the Fort Collins Coloradoan in her Steep Shots column. We’re hoping Emily will be a semi-regular contributor, sharing her Front Range perspective on Colorado mountain sports with Summit Voice. Here’s her take on spring skiing.

By Emily A.P. Mulica

The past couple weeks have brought daylight savings, the official entrance of spring and 70-degree temperatures in Golden, leading many a Front Ranger to begin thinking more about boat trips, hiking and other favorite summertime ventures as skiing slips to the back burner.

As more people throw their bikes on the car and leave the planks at home, the road to ski hills gets less congested this time of year. Add in the glorious spring snowstorm and you have arguably the best time of year to hit the slopes. A few tactical changes in the skiing routine can help optimize the spring skiing experience.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen
Last Sunday I must have reapplied sunscreen three or four times throughout the day, and people are still commenting on how tan my face is. In addition to the sunscreen lotion, a tin of Dermatone balm is handy, fits easily in the pocket and also offers wind protection. The sun protection factor is just as important as all of your other ski gear, especially when you consider the glare from the snow and the higher altitude.

Switch up the wax & beware of sticky snow
Using ski wax geared for warmer temperatures can help to mitigate the clingy snow, but you still need to be careful. One minute you can be cruising along in on a warm ski day and then wham, you hit what I call dry-heave snow. Warmed up to mashed-potato consistency, the thick slush puts the brakes on your planks before you can say “more sunscreen please” — all while the rest of your body still has forward inertia. Not too great for the knees. Using specialized spring wax makes skating catwalks far easier (without it, you’ll be exhausted halfway to Blue Sky Basin at Vail). Use those edges when you hit a gripper patch, it’ll lessen the surface area and soften the jolt.

Death cookies and other springtime conditions
Death Cookie, noun, A chunk of hard icy snow that turns into a harmless mush lump in the afternoon sun: It was fun to ski the glade this morning just as the snow began to soften, but there were many death cookies to dodge.

With considerable temperature differentials between shaded areas and sunny spots, morning and afternoon, and one day to the next, spring skiing offers an exciting challenge in variable terrain. Rise over run isn’t the only change to consider on the slopes this time of year, hitting a shady patch can result in an icy wipeout.

One of my favorite traits of spring skiing is the excuse to sleep in. If no new snow has fallen, I like to hit the slopes around noon after the crust softens. Ski some corn snow and mashed-potato moguls before the snow gets too grippy and slushy, then enjoy a bit of warm-weather tailgating.

Telemark skier, freelance writer, Jackie-of-all-trades & master of none Emily Palm Mulica lives in Golden, Colo. Check out her Web site at, follow, e-mail her your favorite joke at and don’t forget to fill up that CamelBak and stay hydrated on those warm days.


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