I was 10 years old the first time I felt it. My friend’s dad, Mr. V, had driven us the three hours to Bromley in Vermont, but a powder day seemed a total wash when the storm came in hot. For all I knew, skiing in the rain was like putting American cheese on your burrito—some things you just don’t do.
But Mr. V had other plans—and only one free Saturday that month. Suddenly a materials expert, he cut three holes in black garbage bags he’d bought back at the Stewart’s in Manchester, just big enough for us to shove our sticker-clad helmets and mittened hands through. People often say they feel like a sack of dog crap when they’re uncomfortable. Well, I kind of looked like one. As we stepped out into the monsoon, my ski boots barely poked out of my shiny trash poncho. A lab-concocted pine scent crept up and into my neck warmer.
The rest of New England might have been at home working on morning pancakes, but the Bagged Brigade was not to be denied. Our new performance outerwear whooshed and thwapped as we chased each other through the deluge, and the snow—which I assumed would slide like a sticky August mud puddle—was buttery smooth. Without the typical human slalom in attendance, we linked huge S-turns down empty corduroy. Old rock-hard moguls melted under our skis, and landings—normally teeth-chattering—were velvety soft. Even Mr. V seemed impressed.
The dye from soaked mittens stained our hands blue, but that day we held up prune-y appendages like trophies.
There’s a strange magic to skiing in the rain. Sure, it’s the whole rite-of-passage thing—braving the elements while others retreat to the comfort of woodstoves and yoga apps—but there’s more there. Skiing in the rain only gets good when things are, by all standards, really bad.
We’re talking 37 to 43 degrees, dripping wet and probably more than a little foggy. Moisture pouring off your nose, but still finding a way to sting your face. Don’t even get me started on the swampy underoos.
But without each piece of that nightmare combination, the equation just won’t work.
A few degrees colder and rain crust sets in. Warmer? That’s a sticky, knee-torquing mess. Rain and fog dissolve hardpack into surfy sugar for carving, and the wet snow surface reduces friction and picks up speed. The swampy underoos? Well, that’s just nature’s ultimate form of crowd control.
After moving to the Pacific Northwest—a region famous for storms that tiptoe the mercurial line between two feet of pow and two inches of not-pow—I learned this phenomenon even has a name: rain corn, skiing’s secret level.
Rain corn is soggy wiggles at Stevens Pass. Misty bowl laps at Crystal. A drizzle or two at Baker.
It doesn’t pretend to outdo a storm day, or replace bluebird pow, but rain corn is the open parking spot at the end of access road traffic. The 3:30 p.m. rope drop on your last day of vacation.
More than that, it’s proof we can endure some pretty nasty stuff and still find something good to hold onto. Sure, they might not be teaching philosophy classes on Mr. V and the Bagged Brigade anytime soon, but maybe they could learn a thing or two from the idiots who ski through a downpour.
After all, it’s not all Utah blower (who has time to wait in that canyon traffic, anyway?). Some days you just have to let it rain.
This article first appeared in The Ski Journal Issue 14.1