Spring Ski Mountaineering Considerations

Spring is upon us and the best big line skiing time is here. I love spring skiing and all the possibilities it brings. You can skin in the morning, climb and golf in the afternoon, and then BBQ in the evening. What could be better? There are many decisions to be made when spring arrives and you have chosen your descents. What gear should I bring? What gear should I leave behind? What is the snowpack like? What is the avalanche danger? What type of avalanche should I be concerned with? What time should I be on top of the descent to get the best snow conditions and least avalanche danger? I will give my two cents below and hope everyone gives spring skiing a chance.

The difference in gear between spring and winter outings can be dramatic at times. If it is nuking snow and you are going to ski pow, then the gear list is the same. If you are trying to ski the Dragontail Couloir or East Face of Notchtop in spring conditions, you will need to bring some extra gear. I can trade my BCA Float pack for a lighter Stash pack and add a light 30 meter rope, harness, small rack of 3 pins and a few stoppers, ski crampons, ice axe, whippet (ski pole with built in ice pick), cordolette, belay device with locking carabiner, a few extra biners, and a baseball hat. I can leave some of the gear behind if it is less technical, but I always want to research the descent enough to know what to bring and what I can leave.  I will ask myself if I need to bring an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe. How could I consider leaving this incredible gear behind? Well it weighs a lot and if there is no avalanche danger, or I am skiing solo, then I may choose to leave it behind.

East Kessler Couloir

For skis I will choose a lighter pair with perhaps a slimmer profile and I may go for a lighter pair of boots.

I will check the CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) to see what the forecast is as well as call any friends who may have been in the area recently if I have not. Spring does not always mean low avalanche danger. I will use all of this information as well as look at the weather forecast for the day and area I intend to ski. What I am looking for is low avalanche danger, a wet slide cycle is fine as I intend to be off the objective before the snow heats up too much. I am looking for a sunny day above freezing as I don’t like skiing ice, and little to no wind.

Flying Dutchman

As far as timing an objective, I want to be standing on top of the ski descent ready to go when the conditions are prime. If I am too late the snow will be mashed potatoes, or turn back into ice. If I am too early the snow will not have softened enough for me to enjoy the skiing. If it is a east or south aspect, then I will need to start super early. If it is west, or north, I will be able to get a more leisurely start.

I love skiing with partners and sharing a spring outing is amazing. There are also objectives that are quite nice for a solo outing. Whatever you choose remember to have a blast and be safe. If you want a professional guided outing contact the Colorado Mountain School at 720-387-8944.

Spring Gear









Mike Alkaitis
Senior Guide Colorado Mountain School