How To Dress For Spring Ski Touring
There’s no skiing quite like spring skiing. Even aside from the potential for corn snow, touring in the warmer spring months includes all my favorite things about backcountry skiing—good company, fewer crowds and often more stable snowpack—minus the sub-zero temps. This is the time of year when I get to really start working hard on my goggle tan— and, when it’s finally warm enough to ski in a t-shirt, my farmer’s tan.
Dressing for spring touring is a little different than bundling up to ski during the winter. Here’s what you need to know.
Be bold—start cold
Unlike in the darker winter months, when you’ll probably remain pretty chilly whether you’re skinning up or skiing down, sunny spring will have you shedding layers as soon as you start to move uphill. Instead of starting with an insulated puffy or a ton of layers on, a base and mid-layer are all you need—even if you’re a little cold when you leave the trailhead. (Trust me on this one: I’ve more than once watched my friend roll their eyes, a quarter-mile from the trailhead, as they wait for me to sheepishly stuff my puffy in my pack because suddenly I’m sopping in sweat.) If you can’t just skin in a base layer—like the soft, wicking Essence L/S Zip Top or the lightweight Echo Hoody or Echo Tee—then opt for adding mid-layer like the Ascendant Hoody, which is breathable enough that you won’t have to take it off as you skin uphill.
What’s on your face
Milder spring conditions mean you’re no longer getting blasted by wind and blowing snow as you tour, and as things warm up, heavy-duty goggles will fog up. So—if you don’t fancy seeing fog (hey—it’s not whiteout season anymore!), bring along a pair of polarized sunglasses, which will keep you from having to squint without overheating and fogging up. You also probably won’t need that cozy winter hat anymore. Switch it out for a hat with a brim (preferably something with a Sasquatch on it) or an Ubertube to maintain a comfortable temperature while you’re working hard. An Ubertube can pull double duty by protecting your neck and ears from intense sun reflecting off the snow, and it will still be cooler than a stocking cap.
Sometimes you just need to vent
One spring many years ago, I made the mistake of heading out for a day of touring in bulky, super-insulated ski pants—the kind you’d wear to ski at the resort, when you’re riding lifts in frigid temps and not doing the kind of cardio that skinning uphill entails. It only took about 20 minutes for me to realize I’d made a grave error. Real talk: There are few things as unpleasant as crotch sweat. Less insulated pants are great for spring touring, but pants with thigh vents are even better. These days, for springtime touring I start with a pair of light long underwear like the Essence Tights, light yoga pants like the Essentia Tights—or if it’s really warm, just a pair of wicking, form-fitting Essentia Shorts. Then I add the Trailbreaker Pant. They have giant thigh vents—the better to release that uphill heat!—and have more breathable fabric around the waist with more waterproof fabric down low around the legs. If there’s snow in the forecast or temps are well above freezing, bring along a hard shell, like the Skyward Jacket or the Revelation Jacket to keep you dry, but be sure it’s got pit zips you can open when you’re slogging uphill.
Bring plenty of layers
If there’s one thing we know about mountain weather, it’s that it’s constantly changing. Springtime is no exception, and there’s always a possibility a storm will roll up or temperatures will drop quickly. If you’re skiing the backcountry, you need a backpack to carry your avalanche rescue gear anyway, so make the most of it. Bring along a puffy jacket—opt for something with synthetic insulation, like the Cathode Hooded Jacket, since down loses its insulative properties when it gets wet. Or, choose a beefy jacket like the Floodlight Down Parka that’s actually waterproof. And even if it stays in your pack just for emergencies, pack a hat that covers your ears. They’ll keep you from getting too cold if you stop to take in the scenery or in case something unexpected happens.
And, of course, don’t forget the sunscreen.
I’ve gotten some of my gnarliest sunburns in March, when the days have started to lengthen but I’m not quite in summer mode yet. Put it on before you leave the trailhead, even if the sun’s not out yet. Pro tip: Apply liberally under your nose and chin, since the sun bounces off the super-reflective snow below.
Photos by Elise Giordano, Dan Patitucci and Joey Schusler.