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Spring Tour Planning for Better Snow & More Fun

By Jess Joyner on

shane robinson

Our faithful mountain guide himself, Shane Robinson. 

Volcano season is here in the PNW and epic spring skiing conditions and long days outside on your board(s) await! We asked TREW Athlete Shane Robinson, who is also a guide for Graybird Guiding out of Seattle, Washington for some tips on what to consider when planning a spring tour. With longer days (more sun), bigger missions (road access is opening up), and a desire to wear your party-shirt (duh), spring riding really is one of our favorites. Enjoy!

We’ll let Shane take the mic………

If you are reading this, then it is likely that you are still stretching the days of your season on skis or your split for as long as you can (me too :). The mountain bike is still hung up, your days of cragging haven’t crossed your mind since last season, and you are determined to savor the sweet, sweet turns that spring shredding offers.

When spring rolls around, there are a few considerations that I pay special attention to when planning a tour or even riding around resorts that may still be open. 


skiers and splitboaders skinning in a vast alpine environment

When tour planning, take a granular look at subtle changes and variations that occur within an aspect.


Aspect is the direction that a slope faces on a compass. This is important, as it relates directly to how it is impacted by sun and wind exposure, as well as to the changing of snow crystals over time. The presence of sun crusts, surface hoar, near-surface faceted snow, solar warming, and wind effect are highly dependent on aspect.

When planning a tour, determining the aspects I want to (or in some cases have to) both ride and travel on to access the most optimal conditions is a goal. It is helpful to monitor weather events and conditions reports throughout the winter, as they can be a great tip-off as to which aspects may hold nicer snow or more stability later into the spring. I’d also encourage you when planning, to look beyond the broader general slope aspect, and take a granular look at subtle changes within one aspect that will create different conditions. For example, the left side of a gully may have a slightly different aspect than the broader slope creating a condition for more sun exposure, or there’s a big cliff with just enough shade to keep the powder intact longer after a spring storm. Both scenarios will of-course change the quality of the snow.


shane robinson and keree smith booting up a big mountain face to ski a line

The steeper the slope, the more affected it will be by the sun in comparison to lower slope angles. 


The direction that a slope faces will give us important information about how it may be impacted by sun exposure, but the angle or steepness of the slope is also a factor. For example, a steep slope will be more affected by the sun than a flatter slope because there is more direct solar input due to the angle of the sun. A flatter north aspect (or west aspect in the morning) will get more solar influence when the sun is high in the sky (spring + summer). Getting obsessive about aspect and slope angle, and their relationships to the sun will help you find the best snow at the best time of the day. 


shane robinson shredding a face in the spring

Time your skiing to maximize fun and minimize risk.



Which leads us to our next consideration…….the time of day you plan to (or should plan to) harvest all that sweet corn snow. The sun rises in the east, right? Yes, but not exactly the east.  At some point after the spring equinox (depending where you live), the sun actually rises north of due east, and if you live in the PNW (or further north), the sun will rise a good bit north of east and also quite early as you approach the summer solstice.  Which means all those east slopes are getting solar effect quite early, and if you want to ski perfectly softened snow (but not too mushy) you probably need to be thinking about dropping into an east slope around 9am-ish, maybe earlier if it’s steep. I typically want to ski south slopes by 11am, sometimes as late as noon, and west slopes rarely after 2pm. These are general guidelines and vary often by all the other factors I discuss in this article.  

If you have calm weather, it’s better to be early than late. Waiting on top of your line for it to soften rather than still walking up as it (and you) are getting cooked is preferred. This is important for optimal riding conditions, but also safety. As the snow melts, and the frozen crust breaks down, the snow loses strength and can quickly become weak and unstable. A good rule of thumb is that if you are sinking in more than 10cm on skis (or split boards) or above ankle deep in boots, you’re too late and should consider turning around. 


shane skiing a line in the sun of nice powder

Shane found a nice high-elevation and wind sheltered slope on a day that was warm down low and windy up high.



Wind is the biggest thing that can slow the melt and prevent the snow from softening at all - even when above freezing temperatures. Conversely, a windy night can limit the amount of freeze that happens, especially when the temps are warmer.  

Clouds also change the sun's effect on the snow. Cloudy weather can create a greenhouse gas effect, meaning that the sun will affect west and north aspects earlier than you might anticipate. Clouds that occur overnight keep temps warmer and therefore limit the amount of freeze that happens, especially in places like the PNW where it’s not that cold to begin with. Finally

Elevation, especially big elevation changes, can alter some of these affects. Again, here in the PNW we play on our volcanoes late into summer because they have skiable glaciers over 14,000’ in elevation. The weather can be quite different up 1000’ or 10,000’ from where you start your adventure so keep that in mind as well.  

At this point you might be thinking this sounds complex, trying to keep track of aspect, slope angle, time-of-day, whether there are clouds, and/or how much wind is happening up at higher elevations. It is a little complex, which is why there are people like me, who love to take you all out and teach the finer points of this stuff! Or, just start paying attention to all this the next time you are riding slushy bumps on the hill, climbing a volcano for the first time, or trying to squeeze in the final pow turns of the year. Over time, you’ll start to see how this all works together to create SO MANY awesome (and not awesome) snow conditions for us to play on.  

Finally, the most important considerations for the spring season is will you be wearing flip flops or crocs for the aprés and what beverage are you pounding after a hot spring day?  


Thank you Shane! And if you haven't heard of his business, Graybird Guiding, then allow us to add it to your bucket list. Not only does Shane offer unique and fun educational opportunities in and around his home-base in the Cascades, he also provides clients with unforgettable backcountry experiences and trips across the globe - From Mount Baker and British Columbia all the way to Antarctica.

Happy spring everyone!

Photos by
Will Saunders

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