Spring skiing has arrived in Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Don’t be that skier that ends up on the mountain in April under sunny skies in 50-plus degree weather that’s still wearing a jacket thick enough for sub-zero temperatures in the middle of January.
Spring skiing has arrived, and the conditions are different out there. Sure, you might think the goggle tan look is cool, but there’s a happy balance between that tan and a lobster-red sunburn.
Spring skiing isn’t all about warm weather and sunny skies, though. If you don’t have the right gear or know when to hit the mountain, you might end up looking like an amateur out there.
Colorado’s UV rays are powerful, especially during April bluebird days. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports that incidents of skin cancer in Colorado are 30 percent higher than in the rest of the United States.
J.C. Cole, the human performance director at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, said skiers and snowboarders have to be prepared in the spring when the sun is shining.
“The sun this time of year is very bright – you need plenty of sunscreen and plenty of hydration,” Cole said.
The UV index for Vail today is 9, which is in the “very high” category for exposure.
White surfaces, such as snow-covered ski slopes, reflect UV rays and can double UV exposure, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – prime time for skiers and snowboarders – is also the time period when the sun pumps out the strongest UV rays.
“I wear sunscreen every day,” said Vail native and U.S. Ski Team member Sarah Schleper.
You can still get burned on a cold or cloudy day, too. UV rays from the sun still reach your skin even if heat does not, and clouds block only 20 to 40 percent of UV rays, according to the EPA.
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athletes are drinking water after every single run, which Cole said is good advice for everyday skiers, too.
“You should at least be drinking water once every two runs,” Cole said.
Skiers and riders often get confident this time of year, especially if they’ve made it through dozens of ski days without incident.
“It’s still important to do a good warm-up in the morning and make sure you stretch,” Schleper said.
Dr. Tom Hackett, an orthopaedic surgeon with the Steadman Clinic, cites statistics that show more injuries happen toward the end of the day, so taking that one last run when you’re already feeling tired might not be the best idea.
Cole said that knowing when to call it quits could easily save skiers and riders from many injuries.
“When your body’s tired and your brain is tired, don’t be afraid to call it a day early,” Cole said. “And stay away from alcohol until you’re done [skiing for the day].”
Stretching and exercising before hitting the slopes is one of the best ways to try to prevent injuries, Cole said. Muscles and ligaments need to warm up, so Cole recommends anything from a quick run to a spin on a bike to a light workout before getting on the chairlift.
“I try to encourage people to spend as much time warming up their body before they go out,” Cole said.
Spring is the time of year where one day we’re on our powder gear getting face shots and the next day we’re on rock skis in T-shirt weather. When warm days cool down enough at night to freeze the snow, go ahead and sleep in the next morning because you won’t be missing much.
“The afternoon is better, right when it starts getting soft,” Schleper said.
Cole said he prefers a fatter or mid-fat ski in spring conditions because it allows for more float. Skis also need to be something that you can arc on the hard stuff, too, he said.
And because of the freeze-thaw cycle in the spring, those who must get up for first chair or early morning skiing should just stick to the groomers until everything else softens, he said.
Wear layers, too, or else you could end up too hot or too cold on top of the mountain – conditions aren’t always predictable this time of year.
The freeze-thaw cycle doesn’t mean there aren’t any powder days left. Schleper, who has been racing in Europe most of the season, just had her first powder day of the season at Vail a few days ago.
“Vail has the best spring skiing anywhere,” Schleper said.
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