Make the most of the slopes in any weather

  • Article by: ANNE Z. COOKE and STEVE HAGGERTY , McClatchy News Service
  • Updated: December 13, 2013 - 2:19 PM

Use these tips – where and when to go – to maximize your ski vacation.

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Even if there’s no snow in town, the peaks are great for March skiing in Park City, Utah. One tip for maximum slope time: Follow the sun.

Photo: Steve Haggerty • MCT,

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– “A little tip to remember,” said John at Whistler Ski Resort in British Columbia’s Coastal Mountains.

“In early season start late, and in late season start early,” he said. “You’ll ski and feel better if you set your clock to match the calendar.”

What he means is that if you’re skiing in December when the days are shortest and coldest, stay in bed longer, hit the slopes later in the morning (after the icy patches melt) and ski until the lifts close. If you’re skiing in spring, however, say mid- to late-March and into April, rise early and be the first one riding the chairlift. When the sun turns the snow to slush, usually after lunch, quit early.

That’s good advice if the slopes are a mile from your house and you’re skiing on a bargain-priced locals-only lift pass.

But show me a typical recreational skier, somebody who lives hundreds of miles from a mountain and has just spent three hours in an airplane, and I’ll show you a go-getter determined to cram a year’s worth of skiing into a single week, no matter what falls from the sky. Here’s how the experts make the most of every day.

READ THE DAILY GROOMING MAP: Most ski resorts can’t groom every slope, every night. With most resorts continuing to add more skiable acreage, there’s often just too much terrain to cover. So the Snowcat drivers groom selectively, often leaving baby bumps on runs to develop giant moguls before they plow them flat again.

To find out which runs are freshly groomed (or not, if you’re crazy for thrills), get a copy of the daily grooming map, usually a list available by early morning at ticket windows or at on-slope information kiosks. If you’re an intermediate, ski the groomed runs in the morning and try the bump runs later, after the snow’s softened up.

DON’T QUIT WHEN IT SNOWS: OK, quit if you want to. Skip the blizzard, head back to the lodge and relax with a cup of cocoa. But if you refuse to miss a single minute of skiing, swap those poster-boy fashions — lightweight bomber jackets, rad sun glasses and baseball caps — for warmer clothes. Layering with fleece, adding a neck gaiter with a pull-up face mask and ditching sunglasses for goggles will make you as impervious as a snowman in a storm. Most experts like amber lenses not just because they keep the snow out of your eyes, but because they work in a white-out, sharpening the shadows.

FOLLOW THE SUN: Most slopes, at most North American ski resorts, face north, northeast, northwest or a combination thereof. And for a reason. These are the slopes where the sun shines the least and the snow, when it falls, lasts longest. If it’s a warm day, you might want to ski in the shady places, staying ahead of the sun. Sometimes, though, in spots where the sun never shines, the snow turns to ice. If it’s very cold out, follow the sun as it moves across the resort, skiing each run as the sun hits it, then moving on to the next. Do it right and you’ll catch peak conditions.

SKI THE TOP: When spring breezes blow and crocuses push up next to the gondola, head for the clouds where temperatures stay low and the snow lasts longest. Back in the day, resorts put the easy runs on the lower slopes and the double-black-diamond mind-benders above timberline. Never-ever skiers took lessons on the bunny slopes beside the lodge and the hotshots pumped air off the cornice. But all that’s changed. To accommodate today’s recreational skiers, resorts are creating easy-to-navigate intermediate runs (marked with blue lines) that begin at the summit and track all the way back down to the base area. And what a treat they are.

MIX IT UP: If you can’t change the weather, change your plans. Today’s ski resorts also offer other winter sports, most of them weatherproof. Tubing hills, snowmobile tours, snowshoe treks, cross-country skiing, alpine slides, the Alpine Coaster (an over-snow roller coaster, like the one installed at Utah’s Park City Resort), ice skating, bobsledding, sleigh rides and dog mushing are just the more popular possibilities. Others run from fly fishing and ice fishing to historic walking tours and horseback rides (yes, even in the snow).

GO INDOORS: At your wit’s end? Ride up the lifts and eat at the summit. Find a sports bar and watch a ballgame. Shop on Main Street. Tour the local microbrewery. Visit the history museum. Go to a movie. And wait for the sun to shine.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Park City Resort: parkcitymountain.com

Snowmass Ski Area: aspensnowmass.com

Steamboat Ski Area: steamboat.com

Stowe Resort: stowe.com

Whistler Ski Resort: whistlerblackcomb.com

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