Corn Snow: The Powder of Summer

Clay Malott | BackcountryBackcountry
Corny wiggles. Photo credit: Clay Malott

As the season comes to a close, many skiers reminisce about the effortless feeling of floating and darting through powder. As the sun gets higher and the temperatures warm, most assume that feeling to be gone until next season. But with a little bit of work and planning, you can still obtain that sensation 365 days a year—the secret: corn.

During the day in the spring and summer, snow becomes sloppy and slushy in the afternoon. When the sun goes down and the temperature drops at night, the snow begins to harden and freeze. The next morning, the snow is consolidated and frozen, but after a few hours of sun, the surface becomes soft, with the layers deeper in the snowpack remaining firm. This is what we mean by corn; soft and smooth yet supportive.

The feeling of skiing corn can feel very similar to powder. They’re both smooth and soft and can feel great to ski, but many consider corn snow to be “hero snow.” And this is true; corn snow is very consistent and easy to ski, which is why hunting for it in the mountains has become an obsession of many.

Corn is both soft and supportive, making for superb skiing conditions. Photo credit: Clay Malott

So how can you find corn? The first step is to go on a day where there was a hard freeze the night before. This doesn’t necessarily have to be with temperatures below 32F; some other factors can influence a freeze (stay tuned for a future post with information about that!). The freeze beforehand guarantees a firm, supportive layer underneath the soft surface.

The other thing that is crucial to know is the aspect and elevation of the slope you’re trying to ski. The higher the slope is, the later it will soften up, as the temperature is generally colder. Due-east slopes will soften first, followed by southeast, then south, and so on. Timing is absolutely vital. East slopes will typically be soft between 9-9:30 am, with adjacent slopes following not far behind. If you’re too late for the corn harvest, the snow will be unsupportive, heavy, and hard to ski.

It takes a bit of discipline and work, but when you time a corn harvest correctly, it’s a blissful feeling!

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