Some do not like the crust of bread, pizza, or even the crust of pies. Many people see crust as the hard, less desirable part that is hardly worth the bother after enjoying the main course. Yet all crust is not bad. Snowshoers should learn to enjoy crusty snow, and they should seek it out at least once to savor its unique properties.
Snow crust generally forms when there is a significant fluctuation in daily temperatures, which allows the surface of deep snow to melt and then refreeze. Usually this is more of a springtime event where daytime highs get significantly above freezing and the nightly lows dip below that point.
Crust can form at any time of the year depending upon the altitude, wind, exposure and/or weather the snow is exposed to. South facing slopes with deep snow may get crusty even in the heart of winter. Warm spells after periods of cold and significant snow can result in crust at any time. Wind can pack a top layer of crust anywhere. Snow at altitude generally experiences a significant diurnal temperature fluctuation, which can form crust after long periods without new snow.
The advantage of crust for snowshoeing is that it can markedly improve snowshoe floatation. Snow crust tends to distribute your weight over a larger area of snow as a large snowshoe would, without the penalty that would result in carrying a less maneuverable and heavier snowshoe.
Under certain conditions, crust makes large expanses of snow seem as though they have been evenly packed and groomed. As a snowshoer you are able to move anywhere over a smooth consistent surface without sinking in and without having to deal with obstacles which are now buried under a deep base of snow. It’s as if the woods and backcountry has been naturally packed and groomed. The freedom to go anywhere at almost any speed in a pair of smaller snowshoes that offer great floatation on crust is worth seeking out.
Few snowshoers really get to experience good crusty conditions. Since crust generally is more likely to occur in the spring, many snowshoers have already put their winter gear away in anticipation of the warmer months ahead.
Good crust also appears in warmer weather during which many snowshoers are more inclined to do some other activity not related to snow. The best crust forms over areas of deep snow and these sometimes must be sought out as they may be away from cities and only available at the end of winter when the base is deepest. Many snowshoers miss the best crust as it frequently only stays hard for a few hours after dawn.
Snowshoeing on crusty snow can be one of the best snowshoe experiences. Crust can transform deep snow into a virtually limitless sidewalk for snowshoers, allowing easy movement and freedom to go where you please.
Ideal crusty conditions do not last, but they are worth seeking out. You might enjoy and stay out snowshoeing so long in crust that you will ravenously devour your crusts when you get back, even if you do not prefer them.