In a discussion with my colleague Stephen at work yesterday, I learned that plans were in place to open the Wilderness Chair for the first time this season on Saturday, so Ty and I headed up this morning for a session. We didn’t really rush out to the mountain, arriving at about 9:30 A.M. for the scheduled 10:00 A.M. opening of the Wilderness Chair, but it turns out that was a bit too late with respect to optimal parking. People were already having to park down at Timberline because the upper parking lots were full, and since the Timberline Quad isn’t running yet, you had to take the shuttle bus up to the main mountain. Being the first notable weekend day with fresh snow in at least a couple of weeks, it seemed like everyone in the state was excited to get out for some skiing.
I learned that the Wilderness Chair had actually halted operations for a bit this morning due to a mechanical issue, but that timing worked out pretty well for us – by the time we took one run on Vista to get us over toward Wilderness, the lift was running. We spent much of our time today on Wilderness, exploring various off piste lines between Snow Hole and the Nordic/backcountry network, and the powder skiing was great. We could still use a couple more feet of base to cover up some of the usual obstacles and really get the off piste skiing into prime time, but everywhere we went it was pretty much good to go.
We wrapped up today’s session in the midafternoon with a run back to our car at the base of Timberline, and while having to shuttle up to the main mountain at the start of the day wasn’t our first choice, the run back to the car through endless powder was more than worth it. It doesn’t look like the Timberline Uphill Route is officially open yet, but we’d seen a number of skiers ascending there when we were waiting for the shuttle. Practically speaking, the snow at Timberline is ready with respect to ski touring, so it will be interesting to see if the resort officially opens that uphill route soon. The resort is making snow down at Timberline to presumably open it up for lift-served skiing before long, and if these next couple of winter storms deliver like Winter Storm Iggy did, they’ll probably be able to open it up even before all the snowmaking is done. The next system coming into the area has earned the name Winter Storm Jimenez due to its anticipated impacts, so we’ll see what it delivers over the next couple of days.
As expected, Winter Storm Iggy came through and transformed the ski conditions in the local mountains this weekend. A survey of the Vermont ski area snow reports revealed surprisingly consistent storm totals running around 10 inches up and down the spine of the Central and Northern Greens, with lower amounts down at the southern resorts due to an influx of some mixed precipitation.
Ty was coming home from NVU Lyndon for the weekend, and with Iggy starting up Thursday evening, E was able to pick him up late that afternoon because he didn’t have any Friday classes. The timing was perfect because they got home just ahead of when the flakes started falling, and it was a great example of the utility of accurate winter weather forecasting.
“All in all I’d describe the turns as mostly bottomless, quite surfy, and that powder was all atop that bomber base that was present from the previous storm cycle, so you could really have confidence in what was below the new snow.”
Dylan and Colin only have one early class on Fridays, so after they were done with that, Ty joined them, and the three of them headed up to Bolton for some turns. They scored quite a day with the fresh snow and minimal midweek visitors on the slopes. They had such a blast that after coming home, eating dinner, and watching some GoPro videos from the day, they switched up to some different gear and went back out for night skiing until last chair.
I didn’t have a chance to head out earlier in the day today, but I did get up to the mountain with about an hour of light left, so went for a tour on Wilderness to check out all the new snow. The storm was still ongoing, but at that point I found the following surface snow depths:
I decided not to tour all the way to the Wilderness Summit because I was losing daylight, but the quality of the powder I encountered was excellent. I was surprised to find that I could feel a difference in snow density below about 2,500’, but it was fairly subtle and the turns were really great from top to bottom. All in all I’d describe the turns as mostly bottomless, quite surfy, and that powder was all atop that bomber base that was present from the previous storm cycle, so you could really have confidence in what was below the new snow.
After getting out to the hill on Saturday to check out the snow conditions, I hadn’t really planned to ski any other days over the weekend – the conditions on the groomed terrain were fine, but definitely on the firm side. And, the off piste just isn’t very viable at the moment, because while the snow from this most recent storm contributed a fantastic addition to the base snowpack, it needs another good round of snow on top of it or else you’re just skiing on a dense, crusty moonscape. But, a couple of my students alerted me that they’d be up at Bolton Valley this morning and asked if I wanted to join them, so I said I catch up with them for some turns. E had the holiday off and joined me, and we met up with them in the late morning period and had a great time catching up after the holiday break. Light snow fell much of the time from the system off the coast, and it certainly made the mood even more wintry, even if it didn’t add much in terms of accumulation.
Along with the bit of snow today, we’d also had a little light snow from that coastal system over the previous day or so, but all in all, ski conditions weren’t really all that different from what I’d experienced on Saturday. Groomed terrain with manmade snow had some bright spots (like Alta Vista again), but most was fairly firm as it had been before. One very notable positive change that took place over the course of the weekend was that the resort had opened a lot more terrain. A little (like Hard Luck I believe) was due to snowmaking, but the vast majority was simply natural snow terrain that patrol had been able to check and mark. They opened all the lower Wilderness terrain that is accessible from the Vista Quad, as one would expect, but I couldn’t believe that even Cobrass was open. It’s quite steep in spots, has a decent amount of southern exposure, and seemed to be mostly operating on natural snow.
“The snowpack is there. At least based on what I saw at Bolton over the weekend, if these storms deliver even half of the snow that’s currently modeled, lift and trail counts are likely to explode over the course of the next week.”
All the natural snow terrain they opened is just a testament to how durable a resurfacing this most recent winter storm was. The only thing holding back the off piste skiing (although some folks were jumping into the woods in areas) is just the crusty, dense nature of the snow. It’s simply not all that much fun right now because it’s a bit upside down and crunchy, but boy are both the on piste and off piste areas going to be ready to go with just one decent storm. With three possible winter storms in the queue over the next six days, ski conditions are really set to take a quantum leap if the accumulations come through as the modeling currently suggests. The snowpack is there. At least based on what I saw at Bolton over the weekend, if these storms deliver even half of the snow that’s currently modeled, lift and trail counts are likely to explode over the course of the next week.
I hadn’t been up to the mountain since that fantastic period of skiing from mid-December through the holidays; no major winter storms had come through the area since Winter Storm Elliot, and the skiing just hadn’t seemed good enough to pull me away from other things. That changed with this most recent storm though – Bolton’s snow report from this morning indicated that they’d picked up half foot of new snow in the past couple of days. Although the storm did contain mixed precipitation, it delivered 1.33” of liquid equivalent down here at our site in the valley, with most of that as snow/frozen. Assuming the local mountains exceeded that as they usually do, that’s a storm cycle that has all the makings of a solid resurfacing/base building event.
“…I gave the typical on piste conditions a rating of 2 on a 0 to 10 scale, but I have pretty high snow quality standards…”
With this latest storm, Bolton Valley indicated that the Wilderness Uphill Route was officially open again, which is a good sign that there had been a substantial addition to the snowpack. My observations from today while I was out touring definitely reinforced that notion. With the effects of this most recent storm, the base snow is actually so dense that I couldn’t do any depth checks, but I’d say you’re looking at probably a foot of base depth at the 2,000’ level. If the snow density is that same as what I’ve cored down here at our site in the valley, that would have about 2 inches of liquid equivalent in it. Since the snowpack is just too dense to do any easy depth readings, I don’t have an estimate for the increases of snowpack depth with elevation. The Mt. Mansfield Stake up at 3,700’ is indicating a snowpack depth of 20 inches as of today though, so I’d assume you’re looking at something in that range once you’re up at the local summit elevations above 3,000’.
In terms of the skiing, I wasn’t really expecting much real powder with how dense the snowfall was from this past storm; my tour was really a chance to get out for some exercise and see how the off piste snowpack and snow surfaces were looking. I only found about an inch or so of lighter snow above the base, and that was pretty consistent at all elevations in the 2,000’ to 3,000’ range. Snow coverage of the natural terrain is actually quite good though with that impressively dense base, and Lower Turnpike with a good amount of skier-packed areas has great wall-to-wall coverage. Steeper terrain with ledges, obstacles, and wind scouring/drifting is not as consistent in its coverage, but the base snow is just so dense that most of the natural terrain is going to be good to go with the next decent storm. The best snow quality I found was actually in natural snow areas that had been skier packed, since areas of undisturbed/unpacked snow still held the potential to punch through the uppermost layers of the base. On my descent I definitely employed a mix of alpine and Telemark turns, and the safety of alpine turns with that full width of surface area for both skis in the center was the way to go when navigating snow that hadn’t been packed by skiers.
I stuck around for some lift-served skiing since I’d seen that Alta Vista had been opened, and I think it had seen some of the more recent snowmaking, because it had some of the best conditions I found. The best snow by far was what people had pushed to the side, but the main surface was better than elsewhere. Most of the on piste surfaces were typical of what you’d expect for manmade snow that had seen lift-served skier traffic, so really nothing to note in terms of quality. When I got home and Dylan asked me about the conditions, I gave the typical on piste conditions a rating of 2 on a 0 to 10 scale, but I have pretty high snow quality standards, so he knows where a value of 2 would stand. Even without any big storms over the past couple of weeks, the resort has been expanding their terrain with runs like Spillway, and they were blowing snow on Hard Luck as well. The recent snow was substantial enough that even some natural snow terrain had been opened. Surprisingly, they don’t have to lower areas of Wilderness open yet to lift-served access, which is pretty typical under these conditions, but they would need to groom it first, so that may take some extra time.
Even if the snow quality isn’t there yet in terms of typical Northern Greens surfaces, it was definitely nice to get back on the slopes after the break. We had light snow falling during the morning with some blue skies, and some nice snow/rime on the trees. With that base in place, terrain is likely to expand heavily if these next couple of potential systems in the coming week deliver any substantial snow.
I wasn’t exactly sure where on Bolton’s backcountry network today’s ski tour was going to take me, but my plan was to start with an ascent up to the start of the C Bear Woods, and then go from there. I haven’t toured in that part of the Network yet this season, but the ridgeline there tops out around 2,400’, so starting in the lower Village, it would give me a good sampling of the snowpack in the 2,000’ to 2,400’ elevation range.
For my tour back on Monday on some of the lower sections of the Network I topped out around 1,800’ and generally found 6 to 12 inches of powder, and the tenor of the powder skiing was that something with a bit more pitch would be appropriate for the snow depth. With continued rounds of snow accumulation over the past couple of days (and an additional 2 to 3 inches reported in the past 24 hours at Bolton as of this morning’s update), I figured the powder might even be a notch up from where it had been at that point.
It was midmorning by the time I arrived at the Village, and temperatures were very comfortable in the lower 30s F. Being the big holiday week, the resort was really humming, and they were already parking folks in the lower Nordic Center parking lot. That worked out well for me though, since it’s right on the Broadway Trail that links in nicely with the heart of the Backcountry Network.
Around 2,000’ in the open areas of the Village, the depth of the surface snow was quite variable between the effects of the wind and sun, but in general I found 5 to 6 inches of powder over a consolidated base. There wasn’t any obvious rain crust, but there was a denser layer below the powder. That layer generally wasn’t present in the trees, so I assume it was from wind and sun. Up at 2,400’ I’d say powder depths were about the same as what I found in the 1,500’ to 1,800’ elevation range on Monday, so between additional accumulations and settling, I guess things roughly held pat at that level. The pitches near the top of the ridge there are up in the black diamond range, and I think the uppermost parts of the ridgeline were a bit windswept because the snowpack wasn’t sufficient for confident turns in that area. Noticing that, I headed southward to the right of the main C Bear Woods entrance into some other areas of glades to shallow out my overall run. Intermediate pitches offered nice turns, and the snowpack easily supported that type of skiing. The best turns of that descent were in the lower slopes among the moderate and lower angle pitches as I got back toward Brook Run.
I’d left the option open to extend my tour up toward some of the Bryant Trail terrain, but it was approaching midday and the powder was already started to get denser and a bit sticky as the temperatures pushed above freezing. As I headed to the main base area, it was turning into a fantastic day with breaks of sun and temperatures moving into the 30s F. That’s a pretty nice combination for the holiday visitors to have comfortable temperatures and some decent snowpack, and it will be interesting to see how this holiday week plays out overall for visitation at the local resorts. It’s been pretty sweet to have some daily refresher snowfalls recently to bolster the snowpack, and the snow reports I’ve seen from the resorts around here have indicated that it’s been allowing them to continue to open new terrain and expand the trail count. Visitors to the slopes should generally be treated to some comfortable temperatures for the remained of the holiday week, which I think many would take over the subzero spells that can often occur around the start of the new year. It looks like anyone going out on Sunday might have to dodge a bit of rain though based on the current forecast.
This may be one of the nicer holiday week’s we’ve had recently in terms of the quality of the skiing. Looking at my notes, I’ve had a half dozen backcountry ski tours in about the past ten days, and that’s pretty decent because sometimes the backcountry doesn’t even get rolling until January or February. On average, it should get going (at least on low and moderate angle terrain) in mid-December here in the Northern Greens, but the past three seasons haven’t hit 24 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake until January. Technically, the stake only hit the 24-inch mark for the first time this season on Tuesday, but it’s been hovering in the 20-inch range since mid-month when Winter Storm Diaz hit, and the snowpack came together in such a way that those 20-ish inches were sufficient to put a lot of the local backcountry terrain in play for quality turns.
I hadn’t been out to the mountain since Winter Storm Elliot finished up, and although it was a mixed system in terms of precipitation, I was encouraged by how it played out for the local snowpack. The storm brought roughly 8 inches of snow to our place down in the valley, and represented a net gain in both snowpack depth and snowpack liquid equivalent. Bolton Valley was reporting 12 inches of new snow from the system, so the mountains must have fared at least as well as the valleys.
With some rain during the middle part of the system, I was wondering about the condition of the snow surfaces, so today I decided on a relatively low angle tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network to get a feel for how the new snow had settled in. I started at the Catamount Trail access point on the Bolton Valley Access Road, which is down around 1,200’, and toured up to around the 1,800’ elevation a bit above Caribou Corner. Those are relatively low elevations overall, and 1,200’ is below even the Timberline Base, so it would certainly be a challenging stress test to speak to the quality and utility of the snowpack.
At 1,200’ at the parking area I found about 4 to 5 inches of powder above the base snow, and most notably, I couldn’t really find a rain crust. There was a clear demarcation between the consolidated base and the surface snow, at least around the parking area where the snowpack is a bit more exposed to snow maintenance and sunshine. The depth of the powder quickly increased as I ascended, and by about 1,500’ I was easily finding 6 to 12 inches of powder. It became hard to judge the depth of the surface snow though, because I typically couldn’t even find an interface between the new snow and the underlying snowpack; the wetter precipitation from the storm must have either drained well or transitioned smoothly to snow. I’d say total snowpack depth was probably around 10 to 12 inches at 1,200’ and 12 to 16 inches at 1,800’, but there’s plenty of substance to it, so it’s quite skiable up to moderate angles in maintained areas, and obviously it’s going to be notably deeper up above 2,000’.
In terms of the skiing, the powder was actually too deep for the lowest angle sections on the tour, and I’d have to use existing skin tracks or other skier tracks to maintain or pick up speed. The next tier of pitches skied great with the snow though. I typically like that tour up to Caribou Corner when there’s about 4 to 6 inches of powder over a consolidated base, so this really was a bit deeper than that, and I’d say folks should move on up to moderate angle terrain for the best backcountry turns, especially with additional snow falling over the next couple of days. There was light snow falling during my tour in the form of those big fluffy flakes, and I see that the resort reported an inch of new this morning.
The season snowfall seems roughly on track at our house observations site as of Christmas. Snowfall to date on the 25th was 40.1” vs. a mean of 40.4”, and snowpack depth at 10.5” was a few inches above average. The SDD for the season were a little behind average pace at 146.5 SDD vs. the 162.2 SDD average. I can see in the data that the SDD deficiency is largely due to that slow first half of December, because we were still ahead of average SDD as of the end of November, and then the pace started to fall off before picking up again in the second half of the month.
Today we decided to do some lift-served skiing for a change of pace, and E joined Ty and I for some Tele runs in the afternoon. Bolton has opened a number of additional trails due to all the recent snow, but the main route off the Vista Summit is still Sherman’s Pass, and we started with that since we wanted to warm up with some mellow terrain. The manmade snow on Sherman’s was pretty typical and firm, but we did venture over toward the lower slopes of Wilderness to check out the natural snow options. There was plenty of coverage since those lower slopes of Wilderness are only up to moderate angle, and the quality difference in the snow was night and day. At Wilderness you had nice chalky snow where it was skier packed, and powder off to the edges – it was soft and quiet snow, and unlike the terrain with manmade snow, you could really sink your edges in easily. That was unquestionably what kept us coming back for more, and if we could have gotten to that terrain more easily by just riding the Mid Mountain Chair instead of the Vista Quad, we certainly would have done it.
Ty was extremely excited about his Telemark turns today, and he really felt that he was getting them dialed in. He talked a lot about the nuances of technique with E and I after the session. One of the comments I made was that this fairly concentrated period we’ve just had in which he’s had several outings on his Telemark skis has been really good for his development. We’ve often seen with students that getting in more back-to-back ski days vs. having them more spread out can really assist in improving their skills, and I think that was the case here. The great snow we’ve had in the backcountry and on piste has helped in that regard as well, since he’s had the confidence to work on his turns without worrying about much else getting in the way.
Today I went for another solo tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, and I decided to check out the Gotham City area since I hadn’t been there yet this season. Prior to this point we’ve been pretty spoiled with fresh snow every day since the start of Winter Storm Diaz, so you could detect just the subtlest bit of settling/aging to the powder and snowpack in general. That’s splitting hairs of course because the powder was still deep and bottomless, and you’d probably only notice if you’d been paying very close attention to the feel of the snowpack over the preceding days. There were also a few more tracks around since there hadn’t been that fresh dose of powder to cover them up.
It’s continued to snow over the past couple of days, and we’ve had another 3 to 4 inches of snow down here at the house that’s come in with an average density of around 4% H2O. The back end of Winter Storm Diaz had already topped off the snowpack with some dry upslope, so we expected that these additional rounds of snow should just represent more quality stuff that’s topping off the upper layers of powder that are already present. Ty and I headed out for a tour this afternoon that took us a bit above Bryant Cabin, and we skied a good variety of different glades that really solidified just how good the skiing was. The shallowest slopes are still a bit slow with the depth of the powder, but very nice if you want a gentler pace that lets you work in and out among tighter trees. As we’d already experienced back on Saturday at Wilderness though, the steep and moderate slopes are skiing great.
It’s amazing how one storm simply brought the backcountry conditions from very early season stuff that I hadn’t even contemplated skiing, to something that skis like a top notch midwinter snowpack. And it’s not as if this last storm cycle was a 3 to 4 foot monster. The snowpack we were skiing today is only in the range of about 20 inches, but apparently it’s just laid down so well that it does the job. I’m sure there are steep slopes out there with lots of big obstacles that are nowhere near ready, but the typical glades we skied on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network today were in great shape.
After discovering such impressive snow coverage when touring at Wilderness yesterday, today I actually headed out onto the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. Part of the afternoon was spent clearing out a tree that had come down in our yard during Winter Storm Diaz, and after that was done I had just enough time to hit the backcountry network for a quick exploratory tour. I wasn’t absolutely sure what to expect, but I was going to be touring entirely above 2,000’, and unless the conditions over at Wilderness were a fluke or something due to aspect, the adjoining backcountry was likely in similar shape. The backcountry snow report didn’t even have any notifications about poor coverage or closures, it just indicated that coverage was variable.
I was still planning to be conservative in my initial explorations, and my time was limited with dusk approaching, so I opted for a quick tour with a descent of the Telemark Practice Slope. On my ascent though, it was immediately obvious how good the coverage was in the surrounding glades, and with just a few tracks here and there in the relatively deep powder, it was too good to pass up. I ended up skiing some of the glades to the skier’s right of the Telemark Practice Slope, and they skied beautifully. I was initially not expecting such a sublime ride, since we’d really needed at least black diamond pitches yesterday to avoid getting bogged down, but there must have been a bit more settling of the snowpack, and the addition of the upslope fluff that’s been falling was really just icing on the cake that added a little cushioning with minimal resistance. The resulting snowpack came together to provide just the right speed for the glades, and it was obvious at that point that a lot more of the gentle and moderate terrain is going to be in play for some excellent powder turns.