Any Utah local worth their weight in 3.2-percent beer knows the best skiing and riding almost always happens late in the season, when the snowpack is deep and the bulk of nature’s most sinister land mines have long since been buried. But for the dedicated stash hunter, the lure of fresh tracks usually becomes impossible to ignore well before conditions are prime. Keeping a few key things in mind may help minimize the number and severity of fresh gouges in your base material and/or body parts.
Pick your Spots Strategically
While steep and deep is the ultimate prize for any pow junkie, it only takes a few summertime hikes in the mountains to realize that the majority of your favorite high-elevation lines are mostly just large piles of pointy rocks underneath their deceptively snowy winter dressing. Lower-angle trees may not earn as many hero points or social media likes, but they also tend to have fewer hidden obstacles and collect a significant amount of snow that gets blown off the steeper slopes, meaning they’re often ready to go sooner than more exposed glades.
Maintain Healthy Skepticism
Navigating the trees before the snowpack has fully filled in demands a slightly different mentality than one employs while charging on mid-winter pow days. That tempting but suspiciously angular wind drift? Probably concealing a fallen log. The awesome pillow feature just begging to be buttered? Almost certainly obscuring an unpredictably jagged slab of granite or shale. Basically, if it looks too good to be true for this time of year, it most likely is. Stay on your toes and assume the terrain is hiding something until proven otherwise.
Beware of Sucker Tracks
For every crusty old local’s track that leads you to untouched fluffy goodness, you’re just as likely to follow one left by a tourist that leads to an impassable cliff band or flat field scattered with panicked footprints and lost rental poles. Even if you know where you’re going, take it easy while working your way into early-season trees until you’re familiar with the fall lines and any significant obstacles. The wind can fill things in surprisingly differently from season to season, and your usual landmarks may not look the same as they did last year.
Think Tools, Not Jewels
If you want to keep your brand-new setup looking pristine, keep it out of the woods until the snowpack depth gets close to triple digits. Fact is, you’re occasionally going to find some unwanted buried treasure in the trees—especially early in the season—so either stick with your rock skis/board, or prepare yourself for the inevitable sound of fresh P-tex and metal getting baptized on rock and wood. More often than not, it’ll be nothing worse than a flesh wound; try not to panic and just think of it as investing in your favorite shop tech’s job security.