Whee! I was gliding almost effortlessly across the top of the snow down a gentle hill in the meadow below our house with the dog chasing at my heels! Who needs trails? I love this time of year – Crust skiing is here…
March was one of the snowiest on record, leading to higher avalanche danger that was already high since the start of the year. But the warmer daytime temperatures and stronger sun in March have settled the snow into a compact base that is very high in water content. Colder night temperatures make the top layer or crust firm enough to walk on or even hold up your dog without breaking through. More sun and warmer temperatures followed by cold nights means thicker stronger crust. It is a time of year many Nordic skiers wait for all season!
Today crust skiing was just spectacular! Any open meadow that gets sun much of the day can be your playground. Pole Creek Golf Course is a great place to go because it is public access. Mary Monahan, Pole Creek manager, even enjoys the skiing but reminds people to stay off the roped-off greens and tees and maintain strict social distancing particularly around their workers. Be sure to get out early – the best temperature is below freezing, of course, or the bonds between the snow crystals fail and you can break through. As the crust season progresses, the snow transforms even more, and the hard crust gets a softer layer on top that is even more pleasant to ski on. It becomes what I call Hero Snow that you can easily carve into the top layer of crystals.
I used to think that crust skiing was for skaters. But now in my 70’s and with one titanium knee, I am not skating much anymore. To my delight, even an inch or two of new snow gives me enough traction for my classic skis, either waxable or waxless depending on the temperature. The crystal layer on top of the hard crust that softens as the temperature rises is also fantastic to ski on. The hills present no problem walking or striding up and the delight lies in weaving back and forth down the hill – gravity is on my side and keeps me moving. If I get going too fast, I just ski back up hill. This is the time to practice your telemark!
I have a slightly modified telemark turn much different from that of my husband Charlie who uses telemark skis on the mountain regularly. I drive my downhill knee forward and toward the center of the turn. I put my weight on the downhill ski and push my heel down and out. The other leg merely acts like an outrigger. I only bend my knees about 45 degrees and roll in my ankle but I try to make a C with my body pushing the ski edge more into the snow. Sometimes I feel like I am hanging out over the edge. I link the turns down the slope covering the most distance possible for the climb I just made.
I also practice my step turns. Years ago when I was racing, we practiced figure 8’s to increase pushing into the turn. We learned to lift the tip and move it into the turn keeping the tail somewhat planted to steady you. Smaller steps work best for me. You can get a skating-type push off so It actually increases your speed! Over the years, I did beat out a few competitors with that technique.
Skaters rule when crust skiing… You usually get more impetus out of the skating push but I often use a combination of all of the above depending on the terrain. The flatter areas let you do what you want. When on slight downhills, I practice my skating technique. Steeper downhills let me telemark or step turn and, if I go too fast, just ski back uphill!
Do it your way and enjoy! But get out soon in the mornings – we are losing more than an inch of base a day… Grand Lake Nordic Center closed on March 31 and Snow Mountain Ranch will close April 4. Weather permitting, Devils Thumb plans to remain open until April 18.