How Skiing Fills the Unforgiving February

February 13, 2017 | By: Martin H. Jones, PhD, aka “The Professor”

When the mid-winter blues start to emerge, New Mexico offers two of the best days of skiing for nearly 28 days. The unforgiving month gives way to happy ski days with a mixture of fresh snow and spring skiing.

February. Ugh.

When the excitement of winter ends, and before the spring weather emerges from the frozen ground, resides the month of February. Besides its historical significance for Black History Month and Presidential birthdays, the briefest month in the calendar echoes of pure disdain – punctuated by Valentine’s Day to wound the frustratingly single. The families who filled the slopes during Christmas time are long departed from the New Mexico hotels and ski rental counters. There is a quietness across the trails before spring breakers and Mardi Gras beads appear on the slopes. February skiing may not bring the open-mouthed joy of opening day, but it does offer other greatness.

The February Skiers

In my experience, there are distinct February skiers populating the hills. There are the committed skiers who come every weekend regardless of weather or even if the calendar says February. There are the families taking their children to their ski lessons. There are the late bloomers who decide that halfway through the season would now be a good time to come out. Then, there are the fair-weather February skiers. I am one of these February skiers, which I only admit with some sense of guilt. I wish that I was the committed skier who grasps every minute possible of being on the snow, but February is just too much of a downer unless one of the three greatest days of the year appear.

February: Two of the Best Days

In my mind, and in no particular order, there are three great days of skiing. There is opening day, which is obviously great because of the dearth of time between last season’s turns and this year’s turns. Opening day allows powder days to come again, which are another of the three greatest days. Powder days are hallowed experiences where the beauty of snow dripping from pine trees is overshadowed by the softness of plush snow padding under foot. The elusiveness of a powder day contrasts against the inevitableness of the final great day of skiing. The final great day is often the most underappreciated as it comes toward the end of the season. This is the spring skiing day. Spring skiing means the snow softens from an overnight mess of iced runs and peaked moguls to the consistency and feeling of a spoon through soft frozen yogurt. A ski or snowboard can easily push against the warm and soft slush of spring skiing. This makes skiing forgiving for the beginner and the advanced skier as conditions can nearly mimic the feel of powder, but with the added benefit of warmer temperatures.

In New Mexico, February brings two of the three best days: powder days and spring skiing. In the past week, I personally had one of the best spring skiing days of my life, but I had powder for breakfast. I hit the steep slopes of Taos where I skied a mixture of leftover powder from a previous storm in the early morning as I hiked across The Ridge. Then, under 2 hours later, the slopes changed to ideal spring skiing conditions as the temperature shot above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to nearly 50. The green and blue runs became grippy, but not slow. The black runs softened. I could finally the black diamond trail (Al’s Run) underneath the main ski lift. I would stop on top of a mogul, say hi to those riding the lift up the mountains, and then dive back into the mounds of mashed potatoes with a smile stretched across my face. When I stopped for lunch, I had to reapply sunblock and wipe sweat from my face.

February in New Mexico also delivers the powder day. Winter storms pick back up across the Pacific Oceana and the Baja Bay, which shoot east and north to dump feet of snow on New Mexico’s peaks. In the past few years, the largest snowfalls have hit later in the season so that the February skiers were graced with the hallowed powder day. As I write, the ski resorts got a fresh dusting of four inches last night, with an expected additional four inches tonight. The weather reports say that another storm should come early next week. Between today’s weather and the next storm should be warm temperatures – both fresh powder and spring skiing. The two best ski days crowd out the short month of February.

Reconciliation

Like many others, I don’t like February. I try to get myself motivated to enjoy the waning days of winter, the upcoming parties of Mardi Gras and St. Patricks’ Day, and prepare for spring. Still, I have a hard time getting myself out the door unless I see one of the three greatest days of skiing approach. I therefore reconcile my being a fair-weather February skier because, fortunately, New Mexico skiing in February often means hitting the slopes on two of the greatest days all month long.

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