Snow Trax 17 | New Mexico Current Ski Conditions |

Gathering the Harvest: Corn Snow Delight

| By Snowsports Journalist Daniel Gibson |

Just when you think the season here is winding down, a clandestine storm slips over the northern border and lays down some of the biggest snowfall of the winter, while barely making an impression on our urban centers. A conditions report follows, but before that here’s a look at squeezing the most out of the more typical conditions this time of year skiing, or boarding, on that beloved snow surface known as corn.

Spring skiing is a whole different ball game than skiing in the dead of winter. The weather can be glorious, but the balmy temperatures can also create difficult snow conditions and a new set of technical problems to master. The keys that have worked for you all winter do not always translate to these new conditions. Here are some tips for spring skiing.

Ski Mid-Day

(Above) Three skiers at Taos Ski Valley on the hunt for corn on a warm, sunny day. Photo courtesy Taos Ski Valley. (Top image) Under the warming sun skiers on Gayway at Ski Santa Fe reap a harvest of corn snow. Photo courtesy Ski Santa Fe.

Snow that melts during the day and then freezes at night eventually turns into what is called “corn snow,” due to its kernel-like quality. Corn can be glorious stuff to ski or board, providing a silky ride and terrific edge hold, but there are some things to keep in mind to get the most out of this unique type of snow.

One of the most important tricks is to simply wait until the daily air temperature has risen above freezing and the snow has softened up. Icy corn snow is one of the most difficult surfaces you could dream up to ski on — sometimes known as “death cookies.” But corn will usually soften up around 10 a.m., if it is sunny, allowing you to catch a bit more sleep in the mornings — not a bad thing!

At the other end of the day, the corn will get progressively heavier and wetter, and thus more difficult to ski, and in the warmest conditions, impossible as suction between the board or ski bases and the puddles on the surface stop one dead in their tracks. On a good day, it will be best between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so you might think of knocking off early.

Of course, cloud cover can play havoc with these normal cycles. If heavy clouds are predicted, you might start even later and stay later, or skip it altogether if it’s not expected to get above freezing, as the corn will never soften.

Change Technique

Narrow your stance and ski as if your two skis were one big water ski. This will help keep your skis from separating and catching an edge.

And ski long-radius turns. When corn is in its prime condition, you can ski or board like a hero. Your edges bite nicely, allowing you to carve like a demon. But as the snow softens even more, short turns in the mush will wear you out. You will need some momentum to plow through afternoon spring snow, so open up and make larger turns. But, avoid skidding turns. Skids will take you sideways through lots of lumpy piles of snow, which can throw you off balance. Practice making nice, big, cleanly carved turns. Put those edges to work!

Consider the Aspect

Aspect is the directional orientation of the slope — north, south, east, or west. Most New Mexico’s ski areas are on predominately north-facing slopes, which are much colder and hold snow better. But some ski areas have runs facing east or west as well. For optimum spring skiing, early in the day seek out runs that face east or, even more rare, south, as they will soften soonest. Later in the day move to runs facing west as they begin to melt. And, when everything is getting too soupy, stick to north-facing runs, as they will have the firmest snow.

Wet Powder

There is also another type of spring snow that is hard to master — powder that’s been cooked by the heat into “mashed potatoes” or that most dreaded of snows, “crud.” Crud is dense, cut-up snow — mashed potatoes that have been skied on — and early in the day often sporting a layer of ice on top. Skiing late-season powder requires some of the techniques noted above, as well as some different moves. First off, ideally, ski it early in the day, before the sun melts it.

Begin a turn in heavy powder with a strong up movement, ideally one that actually puts the skis or board in the air. This upward hop is created by a powerful thrust of the heels into the snow to create a stable pad to spring upward from and to keep your tips from diving and allowing the ski to pivot. Also in common with corn skiing, keep your skis relatively close together.


Dan Gibson
Snowsports journalist Daniel Gibson, photographed at Red River.

Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including PowderSki and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via

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