It was a 6-foot-2 St. Bernard that got me started thinking about what’s so great about spring skiing.
I was watching a pond skimming competition at the Summit at Snoqualmie last weekend when the guy next to me proclaimed, “Look at this. It’s beautiful. Spring skiing rules.”
When I turned to offer my agreement I found myself looking into the platter-size eyes of a massive dog. Minutes before – just after a guy in Daisy Dukes and just before Darth Vader – the guy in the St. Bernard costume successfully slid down the slope and surfed the pond while the crowd roared its approval.
Traditionally, crowds start to thin in April as ski areas wind down their operations, but this can be one of the best months of the season.
Great weather, deep discounts, skiing in shorts and, of course, pond skimming.
Don’t put the boards away just yet. Here are 10 reasons April rules.
1. BLUE SKIES
Spring is the perfect time to teach kids how to ski.
With warmer weather, it’s one less potential unpleasant element to worry about while the kids learn the sport.
Warmer temperatures also mean you can finally check “ski in shorts” off your bucket list.
It doesn’t, however, necessarily mean a shortage of snow.
“We usually have really good snow this time of year,” said Guy Lawrence, spokesman for the Summit at Snoqualmie.
The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center’s next snowpack comparisons will be released Monday, but its last report on March 15 showed the snowpack at most Cascade ski areas was at least 80 percent of normal. The snowpack at Mount Baker was 105 percent of normal.
All Cascade ski areas other than Mission Ridge are reporting summit snow depths of 129 inches or more.
2. BIKINI DOWNHILL
In what’s rapidly becoming a spring skiing fixture in the Northwest, Crystal Mountain will stage its Bikini Downhill race on April 13.
Anybody can enter the race for $15 as long as they are wearing a swim suit and winners get a 2013-14 season pass. Women can’t have inseams longer than four inches and guys have to wear either Speedos-style swimsuits or board short. Underwear isn’t permitted.
3. FREE WEEK
April also means it’s time for the Northwest’s best ski deal. At 49 Degrees North near Chewelah, lift tickets are free April 1-7.
The deal, underwritten by Toyota, is becoming so popular people are visiting from all over the region. “It’s turned into Daytona Beach,” resort owner John Eminger told me before this season.
Last spring, 12 people from Eugene, Ore., spent a week at the ski area staying in a rented moving van.
4. OTHER DEALS
It might not be free skiing, but at several ski areas you might be able to work off the cost next year’s season pass by the end of April.
At White Pass, you can buy your 2013-14 season right now for $419 for adults and $219 for juniors. Those prices will jump $539 and $309 on June 1 and $799 and $499 in November.
In addition to the steep discount, the pass is good for the remainder of the season too.
Using skier math, that means you need only ski eight days this April (day passes are $54) in order to ski free all next season.
Find similar deals at Crystal Mountain, Summit at Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass.
5. RYHTHM ‘N’ BRUISE
White Pass’ third Rhythm ‘n’ Bruise competition is April 27-28.
On the event website, rhythm-n-bruise.com, the event is described as “part BMX, part motocross, part MTB (mountain biking) … what snowboarding in a rhythm section could be like.”
The event, designed by Tacoma’s Northwest Snowboards, is on a ski run converted to look like a motocross course. Snowboarders take turns racing the track that includes jumps, rails and other features. The competitors vote for the winner.
A new event, the High Class at White Pass Wine Festival, is April 13 and is a benefit for the ski patrol.
6. SKI FILMS
The lifts might eventually shut down, but winter lives on forever on film.
Crystal Mountain will hold an amateur film night April 19 at the Snorting Elk Cellar. Visitors are encouraged to bring their short ski/snowboard films that are no longer than four minutes.
7. ONE MORE ANNIVERSARY
This has been a season of celebrations in the Northwest.
The Summit and Timberline Lodge have held 75th anniversary celebrations, while Crystal Mountain turned 50.
There’s one more anniversary party to go as Stevens Pass plans to celebrate its 75th season April 6.
8. FREERIDE COMPS
April isn’t just about parties. There are plenty of serious skiing competitions too.
At Crystal Mountain, April 6 is the Best Grom on the Mountain, a freeride event for kids 7-11 years old. And April 13 is the finals of the Washington State Junior Freeride Championships for skiers 11-18 years old.
9. POND SKIMS
As ski technology has progressed to wider skis, the ability to complete a pond skim without getting wet has increased.
“I didn’t bring my powder skis on accident,” said Matt Smith of Kirkland minutes after completing last weekend’s Summit West pond skim while wearing a Darth Vader costume. “It does make it easier than those older, skinnier skis.”
If you want to give it ago, make sure you dress in the most ridiculous costume you can find. Stevens Pass will have a pond skim April 18.
The March 24 pond skim at the Summit was the resort’s first in nearly a decade. It went so well, the ski area is considering staging another May 5.
10. IT’S NOT REALLY OVER
Sure, April also marks the end of the season at many ski areas. Mission Ridge closes April 7 and Mount Baker plans to close April 21.
However, White Pass, Alpental and Stevens Pass plan to push their seasons long enough to get in a proper Cinco de Mayo party.
Even then, the season’s end will be a long way off at Crystal Mountain. Thanks to its gondola, Crystal pushes the ski season as long as conditions allow. It’s offered skiing into July the last two seasons.
At Whistler Blackcomb the ski season can last until early August, while on Mount Hood the season never ends. The Palmer Snowfield lift on the south side of Oregon’s highest peak stays open all summer.