Springtime, and the skiings easy at huts | PostIndependent.com

Springtime, and the skiings easy at huts

Post Independent Photo/Dennis WebbSkiers enjoy a blue-sky day at the Jackal Hut south of Minturn. Spring brings the promise of warm, sunny days and fewer crowds at Colorados 10th Mountain Division huts.

This springs ski season is shaping up to be one of the best in years. And what do we all do?Why, pull out our bikes, of course. And maybe head to Moab.Fair enough. Its only human to want to jump into some nonsnow activities after making it through another winter. But this also is an ideal time of year for skiing including to area backcountry huts.The days are longer, the temperatures are warmer and its a whole lot easier to reserve a hut than during the winter.The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, which operates sites generally located between Aspen, Leadville and Vail, is open through April 30. Yet some of its most popular huts arent booked at all after about April 10, said Scott Messina, who oversees field operations for the association.Thats a far different story from hut availability during the peak season from Christmas through March, when most huts are often fully booked, especially on weekends. Messina said the association recently conducted its lottery for next winter, and almost all the Saturday nights are already reserved for the peak season.Ironically, snow conditions can be better in April than they are around Christmas.Its an old tradition in the United States, anyway, and somewhat a little less so in Canada to start skiing a little more early than one should and then quit when one shouldnt, said Lou Dawson of Carbondale, author of the 10th Mountain Huts & Trails guidebook.U.S. skiers focus on the Christmas holiday, though snow conditions sometimes are sketchy then. By Easter, the mountains have a good, firm winter base. The snow has covered up more obstacles and evened out the terrain, Dawson said.Spring skiing, particularly on corn snow, can be very forgiving, allowing skiers to feel comfortable on slopes they might find too difficult in mid-winter. Theyre not dealing as much with powder and choppy conditions.It tends to be really predictable for your body to react to, and your legs, Dawson said. Its like riding a bicycle as opposed to going on your (Roller)blade skates in gravel. Its a pretty big difference.Avalanche conditions also are generally much better in the spring. Its not that the danger doesnt exist, but its generally much easier to predict, Dawson said. Earlier in the season, snow is unconsolidated and tends to form multiple layers that dont adhere well to each other, which can result in a slide. These conditions are hard to assess, even for seasoned skiers trained in digging snow pits to analyze snowpack.In the spring, avalanches generally occur just after storms, or on warm days, later in the day after the sun has heated the snow. In the latter case, there often are warning signs as snow starts rolling down slopes.For spring hut skiers, spring means longer days that allow for more casual starting times, and leisurely lunch breaks, Dawson said. Warmer conditions also can make the experience a lot easier for people, especially beginners and children.I think the comfort factor for a lot of people actually makes a big difference in their trips, Dawson said.Skiers dont have to spend as much on clothing, and good boots that fit right arent so crucial which especially can matter if youre renting boots.Everything doesnt have to be just dialed perfectly the way it would on a 10-degree-below-zero day in December, Dawson said.Dawson advises spring hut skiers to consider going to higher huts with higher-elevation trailheads. That way they can avoid mud and bare spots that can be a nuisance, or even dangerous if skiers are caught unaware while going downhill.Messina suggested Margys above Woody Creek/Lenado, and Peter Estin above Yeoman Park near Eagle, as two good spring destinations. McNamara, outside Aspen, is good, if you dont mind hiking a bit where the trailhead melts out at the bottom, he said.Peter Estin has a good bowl offering perhaps 500 vertical feet of skiing right outside the front door, he said.And whatever the hut, spring skiers also are apt to find lots of midday sun to bask in on the front decks.Messina said hes mystified as why spring hut usage drops off so much.I think people maybe get a little bit burned out. I dont know why, he said.But a high availability of huts means people often can wait until the last minute to watch weather conditions and decide whether to take a trip, Messina said.So far, this years weather is making for the best high-country spring snow conditions in years, he said.Its like, wow, its unbelievable … get out, go have fun.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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