Spring skiing in Aspen: We saved the best for last

by Lorenzo Semple, Aspen Daily News Columnist
Powder days are like beautiful women, they come and they go. Powder comes with expectations, pressure and a rush to get there first. On the other hand, spring skiing and the corn snow that’s synonymous with it is reliable. It just takes a small amount of awareness, and if you wait for it, it comes right to you.

Spring skiing is tricky though. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, parts of the mountain can be borderline un-skiable. Have you ever tried to ski your way through the frozen ocean of iced-over slush bumps? It can be a horrifying experience. Sometimes a run can be so solid that it makes a hideous scratching sound when you ski it, not to mention the beating your body takes. An experience like that leaves you wishing that you were wearing earplugs and a mouth guard. Skiing is usually fun, but sometimes spring conditions can be anything but.

The other day the skiing on Ajax was brutal with the exception of the bottom-tenth of the mountain. But then at about 2 p.m. the sun came out and the 1A side responded beautifully.

Those few who stuck it out and didn’t go home dejected or wishing for a refund, were rewarded with some of the best corn snow of the season so far. That’s spring skiing in a nutshell — being at the right place at the right time.

1A epitomizes spring skiing in Aspen to me. It’s the home of the best left-hand turn in the entire ski industry. If you start at the top of Fifth Avenue and set the inside edge of your right ski and hold on tight, you can make a sweeping 180-degree, left-hand turn that covers nearly a quarter-mile, ending up all the way at the bottom of Norway. You will probably be going close to 50 miles per hour at the apex.

Does Aspen Mountain have a speed problem? I don’t know what exactly it is about Ajax, but whenever I ski there I always find myself going faster than I should be. Maybe it has something to do with the racing history. The strange thing is the runs that are now built for speed — like Spar, Ruthie’s and Little Nell — used to be bump runs. You could only ski them as fast as you could ski  moguls. Skiing Spar Gulch in the afternoon often times is like skiing in a poorly-lit video game. Does anyone remember the “lobster-trap” era? It was an effective but dangerous contraption of offset fencing designed to slow people down at the bottom of Spar.

As an experiment I’d like to see a grooming amnesty period of one week implemented on Ajax and judge how the mountain skied as a result. “No Grooming Week”: It could be our new corporate-sponsored event. Do you think anybody would come and who would sponsor it? People are so fussy that I can only imagine the controversy that it would cause in town, and the endless letters to the editor about the dangerous un-skiable condition of the mountain. 

What’s the funniest thing in the world? That’s right — watching a complete stranger, or one of your best friends, take a wipeout on a pair of skis and not getting hurt. It’s a hilarious reminder of just how ridiculous the sport of skiing actually is. Spring snow makes for the some of the funniest crashes due to sticky snow.

One way to make your spring skiing experience more pleasurable is to get your skis tuned with a spring base structure. It’s a pattern the tuning machine puts on the base of your ski that helps channel moisture when you hit a catwalk or slushy snow. That, combined with the proper wax, makes those spring wipeouts a lot less likely. What better way to leave a legacy on the bottom your skis than in the form of a spring tune from Pomeroy Sports? Be sure to go by the shop and say farewell to an Aspen icon, as they’re closing doors for good this April.

Right now the base depths are the deepest they’ve been all season. That translates directly to the best skiing of the year. Seventy inches is the magic number for me and we might hit it. I tend to pay little, if any, attention to numbers other than the base depth. That’s a real indicator of how the steep terrain is actually skiing. Anything over that mark means that most everything is actually filled in. Add warm temperatures and corn snow, and it’s the best skiing of the year.

We’ve patiently waited all season for these great conditions. Get out there and enjoy them now. Thanks to the Aspen Skiing Co. for keeping the lifts at Elk Camp open till 6 p.m. on Fridays — it’s been a great vibe skiing up there.

To reach Lorenzo email him at suityourself@sopris.net.