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Bring on the Spring: Ski Resorts Make the Most of the Muddy Transitional Season

5 Apr, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The snow is melting. The crocuses are up. The robins and bluebirds are around. And ski resorts are between seasons – which they view as the same kind of challenge your athletes feel when they stand at the top of a steep hill.

It’s that muddy, messy interim period that comes at the conclusion of the traditional ski and snowboard season, and before the summer season when resorts turn to mountain biking, obstacle racing and trail running events to keep athletes coming to their facilities. And that leads to some extreme creativity for venues who want to find ways to pay the staff, keep the facilities open and maintain a brisk business for the concessionaires.

While almost all resorts use this time to promote discounts and incentives to sell season passes for the following year, it’s also a time to get people to commit to some extra time on the slopes in the waning days of the current season. In fact, the pursuit of extra time at the slopes (note: at the slopes and not necessarily on the slopes) has led to the Twitter hashtag of #OneMoreDay – with resorts all competing to see who can draw participants in on the latest date with the most creative ideas. Key ingredients needed: a sense of humor, an eye on the calendar and the ability to go with the flow (or in this case, the snowmelt.)

Easter: Because many breaks for children’s schools take place over the Easter holidays, resorts are working to craft family-friendly events. Several Easter egg hunts are listed on Ski.com and its related blogs. In Colorado, Copper Mountain’s Sunsation Festival hosts what is billed as “the World’s Largest Easter Egg Hunt.” Park City, Utah, also has an on-mountain hunt, and so do Breckenridge and Copper Mountain in Colorado.

Official Last Days: Ski.com also compiled a list of the official last snow days for major ski resorts and noted the special events offered. Whereas with some resorts, the last day is a set date, others have a flexible schedule, and the last day open depends upon snowfall, ambient temperatures and crowd interest. But no matter whether it’s a set closing date or just a spring event, certain themes prevail for springtime events, and those tend to fall into a few distinct categories; the following are found on Liftopia:

Actual Sports Events: Let’s put this up front. Some resorts are still hosting competitive events well into April, and some even beyond that. California’s Sierra-at-Tahoe  held its Boarding for Breast Cancer sports and music festival on April 2. Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia has Party in the Park Slopestyle that same day. The Big Kahuna Rail Jam at Mount Washington Alpine Resort in British Columbia includes snowboard trick competitions and more. The World Ski & Snowboard Festival is held at Whistler Blackcomb from April 8-17. Alberta’s Lake Louise has its April 30 Shake the Lake Rail Jam. That’s not all, by any stretch – there are plenty of other events, depending on the venue, the amount of snow and the geographic location – as well as the competitive culture.

But as the temperatures increase and the ski conditions start to decline, resorts have been working to capture the fun-loving trade. Some key examples:

Pond Skims: Take the snowmelt, capture it and what do you have? A big pool of freezing cold water. But along with that, you also have a source of economic impact if you can capitalize on it, which is what resorts nationwide have done, by way of hosting pond skim events. The challenge: Skiers and snowboarders shoot down a steep slope (a smaller version of, but similar to, what you might see in ski jumping) and launch themselves over the pond of icy water. Once gravity kicks it, it’s up to the athlete to ski or board his or her way across the water. Prizes are handed out for the longest distance travelled, and in many cases, to the competitors with the best costumes, best splashes, best reactions to that ice-cold plunge, you name it. In fact, so many resorts take part in this throughout April, it’s impossible to cite them all. The moral of the story: If you collect the runoff, people will be in it to win it.

Skiing For Dummies: Even if the slopes aren’t fit for traditional winter sports, they can still be fun. In Nevada, the Dummy Downhill at Diamond Peak allows individuals or teams to build a dummy mounted on skis or a snowboard that gets launched off Show-Off while spectators watch, cheer and heckle. Snow Valley Barrie in Ontario has its Dummy Race. The Cardboard Derby Classic at Arizona Snowbowl is a variation on the soapbox derby principle, allowing participants to make a vehicle out of cardboard and steer it down the slopes. Other venues host events that include downhill races with furniture and other items mounted on skis.

Music Festivals: Maybe conditions aren’t right for skiing but they’re perfect for rocking out and enjoying the scenery. Sugarloaf in Maine has the Bud Light Reggae Festival from April 14-17. Sugarloaf had The Rail Jam on April 2. The bluegrass music event, Winter Wondergrass Tahoe, took place from March 30-April 2. Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota had Doomtree Live at Papa Charlie’s on the schedule – realistically, it’s a great opportunity for outdoor concerts, or even events held indoors at slopeside venues. (As a side note, many pond skims and other competitions also have live music as a sidelight.)

Costume Contests and Generalized Goofiness: Outside of pond skims, plenty of venues are hosting events that encourage participants to dress to impress (or at least dressed to wind up being shared on social media.) In British Columbia, Tod Mountain Days Spring Festival has a Top to Bottom race that encourages retro-garbed and other outlandishly dressed-up skiers and boarders to race from the top to the bottom of a five-mile trail. Idaho’s Brundage Mountain has, in addition to its pond skim, Crazy Days, with costume contests, treasure hunt, poker run and a beer relay. Which brings us to the next one:

Alcohol: It’s a pretty safe bet participants in many of these other events are availing themselves of this (particularly those skiing down a slope and trying to navigate over ice-cold water). But some events really do center on it. Tremblant promotes its Corona Spring Skiing (not a competition, but definitely still capitalizing on still-existing snow and the ability to enjoy libations afterward) on April 9. On May 5, Squaw/Alpine has the Cindo de Mayo party with margaritas. Sunday River, Maine, has The Great Tailgate to tempt people to stay around after hitting the slopes. Last year, Arapahoe Basin in Colorado hosted the Beer Maker’s Dinner and Festival of the BrewPubs. In Minnesota, there’s the Spirit Mountain BrewSki  2-1 (which is all about not calling your last run, your last run, but instead, having a beer and realizing you don’t have time for another run.)

Naked Stuff: OK, not exactly naked-naked (as in deeply, truly Adam-and-Eve naked), but participants are wearing (way) less than the typical ski pants and jacket look. California’s Sierra-at-Tahoe, for example, has its Annual Jorts Jam. Jorts are homemade jean-shorts (yes, they used to be called cut-offs until hipsters took control of the fashion vocabulary). The promo for the event reads: “Pull out your best pair of jeans, cut those bad boys into some trendy spring short-shorts, and enjoy live music from the Grateful Bluegrass Boys + Swamp Zen and all things amuurrrican in the Solstice Plaza starting at 1 p.m. Be dressed to impress because we have the Annual Jorts Catwalk going down at 3 p.m. with fabulous prizes for the best outfits.”

In Washington State, Crystal Mountain has taken it one step further with the Bare-Skinned Bonanza on April 9 for ages 18 and up, in which beach attire is de rigueur. The rules:  No underwear on the slopes – bathing suits only. Ladies are required to wear a bikini or one-piece bathing suit (skirts and shorts allowed but no more than a 4″ inseam) and guys must wear Speedos or board shorts.

Speedos and Skis. Rocketing over icy water. Crash-test dummies. Remember way back when spring mud runs were the craziest thing you ever heard of at a ski resort? Good times.

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