Real Ski Report: Spring skiing at its best as resorts ramp up fun events

Proving that you can have your cake and eat it too, ski resorts are in a pretty sweet spot right now — with wintery conditions up high and spring down low.

Snowpack likely to be unstable in backcountry

A snowboarder carves their way down the mountain at Sunshine Village this week. (Sunshine Village)

Each week, CBC Calgary's Paul Karchut speaks with dozens of dedicated skiers and boarders across eastern B.C. and southern Alberta to get the real scoop on conditions at resorts, on cross-country trails and in the backcountry.

Proving that you can have your cake and eat it too, ski resorts are in a pretty sweet spot right now — with wintery conditions up high and spring down low.

At Lake Louise, the resort has seen a consistent couple of centimetres every night.

"We haven't been getting any rain at all; even in town it's been snowing as well," said Alex Johnson. "Down low it feels like spring skiing, and then up high still very much winter. On the backsides especially, it's still skiing great."

The sun sets over Lake Louise from the Ptarmigan chair webcam. (Lake Louise)

The story is the same at SunshineFernieKicking HorseRevelstoke and Castle, with Fernie winning out for the most snow — 75 cms in a week. 

"It's definitely skiable," said Ross Jansen of Fernie. "The bottom gets a little inconsistent, and when you get to the very bottom it's getting a little sticky for the last 100 metres." 

Over at Revelstoke, skiers and boarders are experiencing a split personality when it comes to the weather: it's raining in town but snowing higher up.

"It's been snowing steadily," said Kirk Pitaoulis. "Down low is super fun, if you like slush. There's still lots of snow down there."

Those bitter cold stretches we were dealing with earlier this winter might feel like a long time ago, but they paid off — the hills did a good job of making lots of snow during that stretch, so even resorts like Revelstoke, Fernie and Panorama that often get really thin by this point are holding on despite recent rainfall.

Though the skiing is still good, don't race out for it first thing in the morning at NakiskaNorquay, or Kimberley.

Make some pancakes and give it some time to soften up a little first.

"In the morning it's a little hazardous; it's icy," said James Gray in Kimberley, B.C. "But the snow coverage is so good. Can't say we have any real rock problems as of yet. I love this time of year."

A bit of precipitation and warm temperatures is expected at resorts on Saturday, though not all rain is necessarily a bad thing at this time of year. The heavy rain event that hit a couple weeks back may turn out to be a bit of a blessing because it really froze up and consolidated the snowpack, which should carry conditions nicely till the end of the season.

Resorts closing

Sunday, April 9, is the last day of the year at COP, Kimberley and Castle — although the snowpack at Castle is reportedly good enough to keep the resort open for a few weeks more. 

Sunshine and Lake Louise are always the last hold-outs, with Sunshine planning on going all the way to May 22.

Although it's sad to start to see ski hills closing for the season, it's also when all the really fun events start happening.

Part of Castle Mountain's annual spring festival is the cardboard canoe competition. (Castle Mountain Resort)

Norquay is hosting its annual Bozo Cup dual slalom, Panorama and Kicking Horse host their snowboard banked slalom events, and Castle is hosting its Spring Festival this weekend, which includes its annual slush cup and cardboard canoe race, face painting, barbecuing and a beach party.

There will also be live music at Lake Louise and Sunshine every weekend until the end of the season.

XC conditions

There's still some good skiing to be had for cross-country enthusiasts — you just have to know where to look.

Peter Lougheed, Canmore Nordic Centre and Lake Louise are the places to go, said Bob Truman.

Watch out for the trails with a lot of fresh snow — they're sticky, said Truman.

"When you get on a trail that's been recently groomed and there's not too much fresh snow, things are good," he added. 

Variable avalanche conditions

Safety in the backcountry this weekend will depend where you are.

The danger rating has improved in Kananaskis, with some good skiing found on north facing slopes.

But in the national parks, south Rockies and interior mountains in B.C., expect a spike. All that fresh snow up high won't play well with the warm-up and sun that's forecast for Friday. 

"New snow doesn't like to see change that quickly and with the sunshine poking out, there's a high likelihood of natural avalanche activity to occur in the mountains," Shannon Warner, a forecaster with Avalanche Canada.

And as we get into spring ski mode, the sun gets stronger and the temperatures get hotter. That means it's best to start earlier and get back to the car sooner before all the warmth destabilizes the snowpack.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener