A Spring Break Survival Guide for Skiers and Snowboarders

Submitted by R. Scott Rappold on Mon, 03/06/2017 - 15:03
April 18, 2016 at Loveland Ski Area. Photo by Dustin Schaefer. April 18, 2016 at Loveland Ski Area. Photo by Casey Day.

"Spring breeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaak!!!!!

For college students, parents of grade-school kids or just skiers wise enough to set aside time in March to ski a lot, there are no sweeter words in the English language.

And they sound even better when screamed from the top of a snowy mountain on a bluebird day with a frosty adult beverage in hand and the Rocky Mountains spread out before you like an oil painting. Try it again.

"Spring breeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaak!!!!!"

Sure, beaches are nice for a spring getaway, but nothing beats a ski trip. And March offers the best of both worlds. On average, it's one of the snowiest months at most resorts, with temperatures that average 8 to 10 degrees warmer than the blustery days of February. The days are getting longer, the sun angle is higher overhead and a feeling of revelry on the slopes accompanies the changing of the seasons.

So whether you're taking a break from the brutal cold of a flat Midwestern city, the already-sweltering heat of Texas or just getting away from Denver for a week, here is everything you need to know to get the most out of your spring break in the Rockies.

Plan your skiing around the weather

The high sun angle and freeze-thaw cycle of spring can turn snow hard and unpleasant, so you want to time your skiing for the best turns. If it just started snowing, give it an hour or two to cover up the crust underneath. If it just stopped snowing, ski it hard and often as the sun and warmth will soon turn the snow to mashed potatoes. And if it's just a warm sunny day with no new powder, try skiing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., after the overnight ice has melted but before it gets slushy.

Dress in layers

Layers are always a good idea for skiing, and doubly so in spring. It may be warm at the base area but up on the mountain can be a very different story. Rather than a single heavy coat, try an under-layer, a fleece and then a light windbreaker. And for those who want to pretend they're at the beach, remember that many a spring breaker has gotten on the lift in a t-shirt only to learn the hard way how much colder it can be on the mountain. While shirtless or bikini skiing may look cool on Instagram, it's not so pleasant when hypothermia sets in at 12,000 feet.

Photo courtesy of Arapahoe Basin. Photo courtesy of Arapahoe Basin.

Sunscreen!

The ski sunburn - blazing red cheeks, stark white forehead - doesn't look good on anybody. The sun can be brutal up there, made harsher by the reflection on the snow, so slather it on for your skin's sake.

Take it easy on the alcohol, dude

Yes, spring break is supposed to be a big party. But for flatlanders unaccustomed to being at higher elevations, alcohol can affect the body quicker and more severely. Your fraternity nickname may be "Chugmeister" back at the University of Texas but up here you should take it easy. Skiing with a hangover is no fun. Don't be that guy throwing up in the snow.

Be smart about marijuana

Yes, recreational marijuana is legal for adults in Colorado, and many ski towns have welcomed the industry, but there are restrictions. It's illegal to smoke in public and at most hotels, so be careful where you partake. If trying edibles, be very conscious about the dosage as it can effect everyone differently, start with a small dose first to see how it affects you. And remember, public consumption of marijuana at ski areas is still illegal. There just might be a forest ranger watching.

Take a day off skiing to explore

The warm days of spring are a great time to experience all the other great ways to enjoy snow. Rent snowshoes and go for a hike. Visit a Nordic center and give cross-country skiing a try. Fly down the local tubing hill. Rent a snowmobile. Go ice-skating. Snow is a gift from Mother Nature. Savor it.

Fire up the grill

March is a great time to save money on food yet still enjoy the mountain views by grilling out in the ski area parking lot. Arapahoe Basin is a great spot, with a legendary party scene on "The Beach," where parking lot meets the snow.

Save money at smaller resorts

Sure you can spend a fortune on a slopeside condo at a mega-resort, but you'll find cheaper lodging and lift tickets at one of Colorado's smaller ski areas. Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Monarch Mountain and Wolf Creek lack lodging but typically have great snow in spring. You'll have to drive from your hotel or rental house to the ski area, but the cash savings will be well worth it. . Scott Rappold

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