Yes, powder days are a great experience. But for connoisseurs, its spring brother – corn – may be just as good or better.
Like the ugly duckling, most don’t talk about this incredible type of snow. He doesn’t have the “wow” factor in front of a camera. It can be as elusive as powder or more. Many skiers call it mashed potatoes, but it’s not.
So what is corn snow? Well, it looks something like frozen kernels of corn, hence the name. And when the weather and conditions align, it can be as good or even better than a powder day.
To help you on your quest for corn, we dive into the basics of how it’s formed, how to ride it in the mountains, why it’s so enjoyable and where to find it.
Let’s talk about corn snow
How does it form
Compared to powder snow where you need a cold storm to fall from the sky, corn snow requires a completely different type of weather. It requires many cold, clear nights (below freezing) and warm days (above 40 degrees Fahrenheit) in a row to form properly. Skied at the right time of day, it’s heroic snow. Adherent but velvety. Firm but cuttable.
Once you experience it, you will be hooked.
While you put on your biggest puffy jacket for powder days corn is all about wearing as little as possible. Think beach weather meets mountains.
The corn harvest really begins when most people put away their ski gear. It’s the celebration of a well-skied winter. “Corn season” normally begins around the end of March and lasts until May (or possibly later) at some ski resorts.
Finding Corn: A Wayward Beast
After all that, this is the ultimate golden snow loop. Come too soon, and it’s hard as a rock; too late, and you have sludge reminiscent of mashed potatoes.
When you make the right choice, you will find the ultimate carving surface. To make sure you’re there at the right time, watch how cold it gets at night. If it hits the mid 20s overnight, you’ll probably want to start around 11am. On the other hand, if it barely dips below zero, it’s a good idea to get closer to when the elevators start spinning.
Pro tip: Some ski resorts open their lifts as early as 7:30 am in late spring so you can access the snow at its best.
follow the sun
In addition to weather conditions, another key to finding corn is understanding the terrain on the mountain. Looking for trails with no vegetation, like big open bowls. Trees and bushes can “foul” the snow, resulting in sticky conditions.
In the northern hemisphere, the sun softens south-facing terrain first. From there, the eastern slopes will then soften, followed by paths facing west. Finally, the northern slopes will soften last.
Why you will love it
Compared to powder days, most people have given up skiing at this time of year. This means that lift lines are non-existent. The sun is hot, so you can wear a layer fraction you need mid-winter. And the snow is pretty much guaranteed to be soft.
And it’s not the time to ski either. With spring providing more daylight, you can hit the slopes in the morning, then follow up with a round of golf, a bike rideor just sip a drink on the deck while enjoying the good life.
Ski corn: where to go
Some skiers have never experienced corn snow, and that’s because it takes a lot of factors to form. Clouds, wind, air temperature, precipitation and sun angle can affect corn quality.
From a meteorological point of view, the Southern Sierra, where mammoth mountain is, has the best spring climate for it.
Mt. Bachelor happens to within a second weather-wise. While its weather isn’t as consistent, its topography makes up for it in spades. Located on a dormant volcano, its conical shape offers the ability to chase the perfect softness of snow for hours instead of a small window.
To complete the top 3, you will find another ski resort dedicated to late-season skiing: Tahoe Palisades. Specifically, Alpine Meadows offers several features that also allow you to follow the sun like Mt. Bachelor.
Skiers should start harvesting corn on the Sherwood chairlift in the morning. Once it gets too soft, head to the Summit Express or Lakeview lifts and end the day on Scott. Although it’s less consistent with nighttime frost compared to the other two resorts, it more than makes up for it with the number of activities available for the afternoon.
If you hate crowds, love the sun, and want a bargain on accommodation, don’t put away your ski gear. Instead, book a ski trip in April or May and go get some corn. Spring might just be your new favorite season.