🕰️ With our clocks having sprung forward, and the days being noticeably longer, spring is officially coming. And with it comes the fleeting window of crust cruising: classic or skate skiing over endless open meadows on top of the firm snow crust in the mornings between too firm/icy and too wet/slushy. 🌷

Nordic Skiers travel across sparkling snow on public land, GTNP.
✨That good spring snow sparkle✨

While people in other parts of the country watch flowers bloom, avid skiers of the Mountain West prepare for spring skiing. Though spring skiing is infamous for being fickle and conditions can change rapidly in the warming months of March and April, the long free exploratory open field skis are often some of the best. 

Know your snow

The key to success is to stay informed on snow conditions. The crust-cruising season is narrow, and the daily opportunities to catch the snow at the right firmness shift from both daytime and overnight temperatures and cloud cover. Hitting the window yields the most fun skis, and helps maintain smooth snow for other skiers in days to follow. When downhill skiers start talking about corn skiing, the Nordic community thinks about crust cruising.

To enjoy it, you need to understand it. Local mountain weather guru Jim Woodmency explains the specific conditions needed to produce the perfect surface terrain for crust cruising. Typically, good corn snow occurs when the weather is clear, and the temperature dips solidly below freezing at night and warms up during the day. The time of day is crucial to a good crust cruising session. Get out in the first part of the day, around 9-11 am. If it’s already slushy and you are sinking in with each stride, don’t go – this will ruin the terrain for everyone and you might face a long hard return to your car, mired in deep, soft, wet snow. If it is treacherously hard, wait 30 minutes to an hour and then head out.

Ideal snow conditions: firm, supportable, smooth crust with 1/4-1/2 inch of corn on top. A similar condition occurs after a light dusting of fresh, cold snow over a firm, smooth crust.

A morning skate near Shadow Mountain with the dogs (snapshot from C Downard)

Crust Cruising in Grand Teton National Park

A group of nordic skiers ski on an open field during crust cruising season
A group of Nordic skiers glide over a sagebrush meadow on a clear day, sans sagebrush.

Every year avid Nordic skiers, like Scott Sanchez, get giddy with anticipation for crust cruising season. Sanchez claims that there is no better time to ski in Grand Teton National Park – just be sure to bring bear spray with you and be mindful of migrating animals. 

While GTNP typically wraps up its grooming services for the season in mid-March, crust cruising on any remnants of the groomed track and through the open meadows can last another two to four weeks. 

Open meadows are playgrounds for crust-cruising skiers

Locals favorites include starting at Taggart trailhead. Head north, then west up the meadows behind the Climber’s Ranch and Lucas Fabian cabins to Jenny Lake. Alternatively, take the northeast route around Timbered Island and back. Other favorites include starting at the Signal Mountain end of the Inner Park Road. The road is closed to vehicle traffic until May 1st and plowed mid to late March. You may need to walk down the pavement for a ½ mile until the snow opens up enough to ski. Or bring your bike, and bike into the wide-open meadows heading south. Your efforts will be rewarded with wide-open views of Mt Moran and the Teton Range.

In addition to the Park, skiers can explore the Shadow Mountain area on the BTNF, the meadows parallel to the groomed track in Teton Canyon, and other meadows or lightly forested sections contiguous to other USFS trailheads on both sides of the Tetons. Be sure not to trespass on private land, even though a stretch of open snow looks tempting.

A PistenBully machine grooms the nordic ski track.
Pistenbully groomer sets the Nordic track

A Grooming Season Extension

Depending on snowfall and snowpack, grooming operations are sometimes extended. Check out JH Nordic’s grooming pages for current information and anticipated end dates.

And while the open spaces of many golf courses with groomed Nordic tracks are off-limits for crust cruising, the path of the track can yield some great skiing after grooming has concluded, essentially extending the grooming by the work of nature.

Know before you go: check weather conditions and trail access/restrictions before you leave home.

Happy exploring! 

Explore JH Nordic



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