While many parts of the U.S. are already in golf mode, here in Canada our spring ski season always runs late. How late? Our home ski hill Whistler Blackcomb has lifts spinning on Blackcomb Mountain until May 30, which besides encouraging sunny laps followed by patio sessions, allows access to spring ski touring in the Spearhead Range.
But spring ski touring can be a different animal from the typical mid-winter affair. Days are conveniently longer, but temperatures can rise well past the thermal comfort for office work (21-23 degrees C). That calls for some adjustments to your usual backcountry ski gear.
Here are eight of our favourite pieces spring ski touring equipment to keep you comfortable when crossing glaciers at beach temperatures.
Save your skins with Glop Stopper wax.
1. Glop Stopper wax
This little block of magic can usually be found getting passed around spring ski touring groups at transition points, often with beers promised to the owner. Wet skins in warm weather can clump with several pounds of snow, but not if you rub them with a bit of Black Diamond's Glop Stopper Wax. The best $12.50 you'll ever spend on spring ski touring.
Fit and function with the Arcteryx Calvus Cap
2. A hat with little holes in it
For long stretches of glacier slow-roast a breathable hat will help keep your face from burning to a crisp. Trucker hats are great as they have mesh sections to allow heat to escape, but a visor or cap with breathable and/or perforated fabrics are even better. Pair with light Buff or neck gaiter to help shield the face and neck. A toque is also a good idea to have in the pack in case of sudden weather change or emergency overnighter.
Always opt for full wrap around sunglasses to avoid damage to the eyes. The Oakley Valve features full frame coverage
3. Wrap around sunglasses
When the sun is trying to burn your eyes from every direction (including the reflection from the snow on the ground), leave your stylish urban aviators at home and bring a pair of wrap around sunglasses. If spending several days or more on glacier, make sure the lenses are rated to Category 4 (three to eight per cent light transmission) to ensure your retinas stay intact.
Don't skimp on the SPF
4. Abnormally high SPF sunscreen
Rounding out the this trifecta of sun protection is some high SPF sunscreen. While anything over SPF 30 is recommended for the outdoors, in my experience only SPF 50 or 70 will effectively stop sunburn at high altitude. Don't forget the high SPF lip balm if you want to be able to drink from your water bottle. Speaking of which...
The 1L Nalgene bottle. Simple, versatile and durable.
5. Wide-mouth 1L (32oz) water bottle
Long days in the sun means your body requires constant hydration. The wide mouth 1L Nalgene allows you to quickly throw a couple handfuls of snow into the bottle during transitions to help keep your water at a safe level. Drop in a couple electrolyte tablets to help replace the minerals you lose while sweating across the landscape.
Keep breathing with the Arcteryx Gamma LT softshell pants
6. Softshell pants
As previously mentioned, heat management is key to a managing a full day of spring ski touring. You don't want to clog the Gore-Tex in your waterproof pants with sweat anyway, so head out with an ultra-breathable pair of softshell pants. I pack a set of baselayer leggings in case I suddenly require warmth.
Packable, breathable, stretchable and waterproof. Mountain Hardwear Ozonic jacket
7. Light and packable waterproof jacket
Insulated jackets and bulky waterproof shells have no place in the spring ski touring backpack, which is exactly where your jacket will hang out for most of the day. A light and packable shell that can stuff down into a ball can be pulled out at the summit for added warmth, or keep you dry if the forecast for sunny skies suddenly turns to rain.
Ski crampons affixed to Dynafit Speed Radical binding
8. Ski Crampons
Side-hilling on crust is the bane of every spring ski tourer. But not with a pair of ski crampons! These handy blades connect to your touring bindings to bight into ice and crust, letting you tour up hard slopes with ease. Depending on your backcountry objective, a pair of boot crampons may be necessary to ascend steep slopes or scramble over rocks to the summit.
There's still plenty of spring ski touring left, so stop by our Whistler or Squamish store to get equipped.