It’s mid-March and the mercury is rising. That means in a couple of weeks the snow on your favorite hill will start to soften up and turn to a creamy or slushy consistency, if it hasn’t already. This makes your spring snowboarding experience much different than contending with the typical icy east coast day, or the rare, jubilant powder day we get here. Riding in spring snow can be a pleasant experience because edge hold is relatively easy, falling is much less painful, and you can let loose with reckless abandon without feeling like you are signing your own death warrant. Soft snow gives you more confidence. But it can also pose its own set of problems.
After snow falls and people run over it with their boards and skis it begins to consolidate, but it is still granular. When the warm temperatures arrive, the spaces in between these snow grains fill with water. The extent to which they fill with water determines how stable the snow pack is. In other words, the more water that fills the gaps between the snow grains- the looser the snowpack. This means you’ll have no problem keeping your edge in the snow, making turning more comfortable. BUT, and this is a big but, if the snow becomes too inundated with water, it will become extremely heavy and you’ll be working much harder. And that can take a toll on your legs.
There are ways you can mitigate this. The first thing you can try is to ride with the base of your board flatter, not weighting your edges as much as you do on hardpack. By keeping your weight evenly on your heels and toes you will expose more surface area of your base to the snow and allow your board to glide over the slush instead of through it. This eases the tension on your legs created when you constantly have to weight your edges.
The next thing that you can try is leaning back on the tail of your board as you turn. This frees up the nose and allows the board to slide more easily in and out of turns without having to move all that heavy, wet snow. It’s sort of the same principle as riding in powder or surfing. The back end of the board initiates the turn and the rest of the board follows. Riding off your back foot like this feels like your gliding on air, and it’s also very efficient. You can transfer a lot more energy from your legs to your board without having to make big movements. This saves you a lot work and it looks cool.
On warm spring days the best riding can be had in the morning hours when the water between the snow grains is thin enough to hold it together in a velvety, smooth blanket. This snow condition is called “corn” snow and it is highly prized because of how buttery it feels to ride on. As the sun rises, the melt-water will rise causing the snow kernels to break their bonds and flow freely. Eventually, the water will actually get pulled up into the pores of your p-tex base as you pass over it and act as an anti-lock brake on your board. The p-tex base of your board is porous so that wax can be absorbed into it. When the wax gets worn off, the water from the snow will rise into those pores and tug on your board as you ride over it. It will feel like you are riding on Velcro. Every year during the spring I’ve hit spots where I feel I’m going face-first over the handlebars because the snow is so wet.
One way to prevent this watery suction cup scenario is to keep your board waxed really well. Wax will cause the water to bead up and act as ball bearings instead of Velcro. There are also board companies like Niche Snowboards who use “StrucTurn” base structuring technology that creates tiny pockets of air as water contacts the base. These air pockets serve as millions of flotation devices that float your board over the melting snow. It works well, I know first hand.
Warm weather snowboarding is also great for park riding as the soft snow lends to better edge hold when spinning on and off features. But if it gets too warm the ramps and run-outs will get scarred with deep ruts that can throw the rider off balance. A quick grooming from the park crew will usually remedy this.
So if you haven’t gotten out on the mountain yet now is a great time to get it done. Spring snowboarding is super fun and it makes the whole riding experience warm and fuzzy.