March: The card shark to skiers
March is a month for gamblers, a carney barker promising an oh-so-easy win. It's a blackjack dealer, cards flashing like quicksilver, or a spinning wheel of fortune. With one turn, you could be a winner, Or with one turn, you could lose it all.
March can put skiers on a hot streak that feels like it will never end. But it always does. The ski season most often ends in March.
March can deliver the greatest snow of the year or, with a roll of the dice, leave skier busted. Over and done in the blink of an eye. March can be benevolent, March can be cruel. But say what you will, March can be the best skiing of the year.
You have your favorite time to ski, we all do. December for the thrill of early snow, January for the firm base. Days of crystalline beauty. February for the great marathon races under a rising late winter sun.
I have to say my best time is March, though. Hands down.
Things just work better in March. We skiers are as fit on the boards as we ever will be; honed (well, at least smoothed) by our times on skis over the previous months. In March our bodies are as good as they'll get for skiing.
But the snow is a variable. March can deliver up a mix from new, wet snow to dry powder, aged crust to pristine trails, groomed to perfection. At its best, March snow is a perfect mix of firmness infused with rising moisture content that enhances glide.
The days are longer in March. We have 12 full hours of daylight for the first time in months, blunting winter's sting.
More than that, the days of March bring a surge of optimism. The first sign of true spring comes in March and the sheer excitement of that reaches something deep in us all. One cannot help but walk with more snap in ones step, cannot resist smiling at birdsong, cannot help but be touched in our gut, in our heart, in our soul by the coming spring.
So yes, give me March, the perfect time to ski.
March is like a casino, though. As in a game of chance, the wheel spins, spins, spin ... until it slows, clicking past "classic, no wax" and "skate" until it stops at "backcountry." You can't lose, really. You can't go wrong.
If you're lucky enough to get a skating day, you're a winner for there is no better time for skate skis than March. None. March snow is heavier with moisture, thaws during the day and then freezes up. It is the perfect recipe for glide. And there is no time when the skaters glide better than on a March morning as the frozen crust begins to soften to corn snow and the skis just take off fast and smooth. The Ides of March become the Rides of March on skate skis.
Classic? Ah, classic. Classic skiing in March draws two cards: no wax or klister. Pick one. Klister harkens back to days of Nordic yore, bonds us to the Scandinavian ancestors of the sport and delivers up, for good or for bad, an experience. Hit it right and klister will give up climb-the-walls kick without sacrificing a bit of glide. Smear some ice klister on in the morning and your skis will kick like a mule. Gliding with green klister can be so fast as to be frightening. It is not for the faint of heart or those with sketchy downhill technique.
Universal klister bridges the gap, crust to wet snow. It's a wonder wax. Wet snow klister is for those afternoons of wonder and joy.
Unless you miss it. Pick klister for the wrong conditions and you'll be busted faster than at the blackjack table asking the dealer for one card too many.
So, is classic no wax more your game? That's a match made in Nordic heaven. Pick your no wax ski (and there are dozens with more coming next season). Forget the klister, forget the hassle of waxing, grab the no waxers and go! You can go most anywhere and you can do it quick and easy.
Backcountry? Pack a picnic and go. Crust skiing? That's a marvelous time when the afternoon thaw freezes up hard and you can go anywhere, anywhere. Live for the crust, for it is a joy.
Get some old no waxers and find a battered pair of skaters. Make 'em your dirt skis. Not rock skis. Dirt skis are for the dregs of the season, when the snow ends in brown, muddy dirt and you just keep the skis on and walk across it to the next patch of snow. It beats not skiing by a long shot.
March is a gambler's delight, when all the cards fall in place and any pick will win. That's when the odds are in the player's favor, not the house. March is blackjack when all the hands are hot. The dealer steps up, shuffles the cards and deals: no wax, klister, skate, backcountry. Take your pick. You can't lose.
Ski in the morning before it softens up too much. Look for shaded trails where the snow lingers. Wait for the snowmobile trails to close for the season (close to those machines, anyway). Those trails wait for the skiers who can find a day, maybe two, perhaps a week when the snowmobile trails are skiable.
Ski until you can't ski anymore. Ski like there's no tomorrow. Ski as crazy as a March hare. Ski while you can.
It will end, you know it will. It may end under high sun on a calm day. It may all go away under drizzle and fog. You might hear the sound of thunder in the night and rain pounding on the roof. When you rise at daybreak, it could all be gone.
March can lift you higher than any other month of the season or it can bring you down, hard and fast and leave you heart broken and in despair at the end of it all. March is a card shark; ole Ma Nature dealing smooth and easy with a smile on her face and her eyes hidden under a green shade.
Cards fall. March is the moment of truth. Let's see what we're dealt.
Mitch Mode started skiing with "proper" gear – wood skis and leather three-pin boots – more than 35 years ago. He has skied every American Birkebeiner since 1978 but no longer races. He is co-owner of Mel’s Trading Post, a sporting goods store in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, named after his late father who started the business in 1946.