According to the calendar, spring is here. But going by the snowbanks at Sunday River last weekend, it will be some time before it looks like spring in the mountains.

That being said, it is time to be aware of spring skiing conditions.

To me, there has always been one word to describe spring skiing conditions: variable. Conditions vary with the time of day, places on the mountain and even going from sun into shade.

At the Legends Race at Mt. Abram we heard a lot about skis grabbing. The mountain had received a couple of inches of fresh snow and temperatures rose into the 40s. That will always result in sticky snow.

Before we get that nice corn snow (loose, wet, granular) the surfaces have to thaw, refreeze and thaw again. This happens at different times on the mountain, depending on elevation and exposure to the sun.

The ideal condition is a soft, granular surface over a firm base, usually found in the morning. Try to be on the lift early and start with slopes facing the sun. Examples are Roundabout at Mt. Abram, North Peak at Sunday River, the East area at Shawnee Peak and Whiffle Tree or Haulback at Sugarloaf. Notice these slopes all face East (and are warmer on cold winter days) and soften first. Follow the sun as it moves around the mountain.

Be aware that skiing from sun into shade can bring a sudden change in surfaces. You can go from nice, forgiving loose granular to frozen granular in an instant. It can also be grabby where it hasn’t gone through the thaw refreeze cycle. That’s one reason to keep the speed down when you might be approaching a change in conditions.

Also be aware that later, after we have had significant melting, conditions can change from one run to the next. You can find full cover on one run and bare spots on the same trail an hour later. Hence the term variable.

WAXING POETIC

What to use for wax? This is a tricky question. It’s not just about wax, but about how clean the bases of your skis are. It’s not as bad as it was when we all rode T-bars, but there is still grease in the snow and it concentrates as the snow melts.

Before applying wax, make sure the bases are clean. Do not use a petroleum-based cleaner; it will damage the P-tex base. You can get base cleaners at most ski shops but it’s a lot cheaper to pick up a spray bottle of citrus-based cleaner at the supermarket.

Transfer enough to a small bottle to keep in your boot bag. This way you can clean the base before applying new wax. For a base wax, I always use a universal wax with a temperature spread of 20-50 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also carry a rub-on wax or use those single-use packets available in most ski shops. Most mountain ski shops have their wax machines set up with a wax suitable for the day if you want to keep it simple.

MORE SPRING TIPS

Dress is also important. We no longer need those heavy warm-ups. My choice is a light set of underwear and a shell-type wind pant. Use layers for the top so you can discard as the day heats up.

Don’t forget the sunscreen and have your sunglasses for apres ski on the deck. You’ll find the activity, often with music and outdoor grills and taps, at a number of locations.

The Beach at Sugarloaf, right in front of the base lodge, is especially popular and nowhere is there a better view of the mountain you just finished skiing. Sunday River has outdoor setups at South Ridge and Barker. The deck at Shawnee Peak is always popular, even in mid-winter on sunny days, but it really comes to life in spring. Mt. Abram has picnic tables right outside the Loose Boots Lounge. Lost Valley’s outside deck will be full at the annual beach party next weekend.

I can also mention some popular spots in New Hampshire. While Cranmore, with its low elevation, doesn’t usually have a long spring season, the deck outside the base restaurant is a popular spot. Wildcat, with its high elevation (2,000 feet at the base) usually offers late skiing and the deck over the brook is a busy gathering place every spring.

I could go on but you get the idea. Spring skiing is about a lot more than skiing.

The party that started on St. Patrick’s day will continue until the liftS stop spinning. Then it will be time to hike for your runs into Tuckerman Ravine, but I won’t go into that. Just go to www.friendsoftuckerman.com for the latest conditions on Mount Washington.

NATIONAL CHAMP

While all eyes were on Sugarloaf and the U.S. Alpine speed championships last week, I received a call from UMF ski coach Cam Eggeman with news from the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association.

At the USCSA National Championships at Snow King in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, UMF’s Whitney LeMay won the snowboard GS national championship. The title also earns LeMay, who is from Virginia, first-team All-America honors.

The competition involved 513 athletes representing 68 different universities, from six regions over a five-day period. Events included Alpine GS, slalom, dual slalom, Nordic sprints, Nordic relays, Nordic distance, slopestyle, skier cross, snowboard cross, rail jam, snowboard SL and snowboard GS.

There were team and individual competitions for men and women, and with that many different disciplines there is an event for anyone who competes on snow.

Congratulations to LeMay, the latest national champion with Maine ties.

Congratulations also to the team of professionals and volunteers at Sugarloaf for once again putting on an outstanding competition in the U.S. Alpine speed championships.

The next stop for me will be the World Pro Tour at Sunday River next Friday and Saturday.

See you on the mountain.