The early-season stuff may satisfy your snow jones, but it has definite problems. Here’s a short list, with solutions for avoiding them.
You can’t see the thinness of the coverage: A sharp-edge rock may be hidden under a mere quarter inch of snow, which is easily stripped off by your weight and the friction heat from a sliding base. Scriiiitch—and the rock gets another one. Even a tiny rock can dig out a hole in the base. Solution: Rent gear. It’s worth the money. But to be cool to the shop, stay away from stuff you know looks sketchy. And, if they sell damage insurance, purchase it.
You will probably hit patches of ice: Early-season snow easily packs down under the pressure of dozens of snowriders. When temperatures drop at night, that spot freezes and turns to ice. If you hit that patch of hard ice, you’ll suddenly be out of control. Solution: Just like driving, the key to surviving a slippery slick of ice is: Don’t panic! A sudden move means disaster. Don’t jerk back or try to dig in your edges. Ride it out. The icy spot will probably only last for a few seconds. You’ll pick up speed during those seconds, but you’ll be upright when the ice turns back to snow and you can safely come to a heart-pounding stop.
Snow texture means a lot: Check how low the temps got the night before. If it didn’t get down to 32 degrees, the snow will be mashed-potato soft and thick, especially if there was any precipitation. This stuff is difficult and tiring to ride through. It can build up quickly over your gear, stopping you at boot level while your upper body still keeps going. The results aren’t pretty. Solution: If thick snow starts slowing you down, keep the nose of your board or the tips of your skis slightly upward, so they don’t dig down under the snow. If it’s a warm day and the sun has been shining to melt and warm the snow, keep to the sides of the run, where it’s a bit shadier. Hit the less sun-exposed trails, where the snow will be somewhat harder.
You don’t have your snow legs back yet: After you’ve hit the slopes a few times, your skills will return. But right now, you haven’t had the practice to be perfect. Six or so months off really make a difference. Solution: Check yourself out and start out small. Maybe you remember how good you were on that double black diamond last year, but that was last year—and maybe you don’t remember absolutely accurately. So, as much as it may pain your ego (or first-day enthusiasm), don’t head for the big runs right away. In fact, make your first run on something green. That gives you a chance to recall your technique and also examine how your equipment is running. Things change over the summer. Do a really good warm-up on easy slopes before hitting more difficult stuff. And, most important: Don’t play show-off with your buddies. It’s not worth it at this point in the season.
Snowride defensively: You may be doing everything right, then some ignorant yahoo does an ollie off your leg and leaves you lying in the snow for ski patrol to pick up. Solution: At the beginning of the season, always wait for a “window” before starting a new pitch on your run. If a bunch of yelling hosers are recklessly outrunning each other behind you, let them pass. Go when there’s a “hole” with no one else coming. If you see someone bombing a trail without turning, don’t get near them and don’t try to race them. It helps to regard every other snowrider as being out to get you. When it comes to that first day back, a little paranoia is a very healthy thing.