Pease Mountain, Vermont - March 3rd, 2007

To view the pictures and data from the day, go here

Several weeks back, I was talking to James on the phone and he said that he'd been eyeing the west face of Pease Mountain for a while with regard to skiing. It looked like there was a lot of steep open terrain there, and as soon as the valley snowpack developed, he thought we should give it a go. At that point, the valley snowpack was getting there, but it probably wasn't going to be quite deep enough for such steep terrain. Well, the Valentine's Day storm took care of that issue, dropping a quick 2 to 3 feet of snow in most valley locations across our area. As soon as our schedules would allow us to get together, we knew we'd try to get out for some turns on Pease Mountain.

Pease Mountain is one of those monadnock-style mountains like Mt. Philo that lie in the southern Chittenden and Addison County area. These mountains and hills sort of jut up out of nowhere without too much else around them. Pease Mountain rises to an elevation of roughly 800 feet, and with the base being at around 250 feet, there was the potential for laps with descents of over 500 vertical feet. A quick look at the topographic map for the area also suggested that on the west face, one could get most of the vertical in one sustained steep shot. The east face of Pease Mountain has a much more gradual slope, while the north and south faces looked to offer options between the two extremes. There were other named features on the map surrounding Pease Mountain, such as Jones Hill (~660') to the north, Mutton Hill (448') to the northeast, and Barber Hill (~500') to the west. Jones Hill, although somewhat smaller than Pease Mountain, sits right along Route 7 and has a similar feel to Pease. The Church Hill Road runs right between them, and it almost seems like an east-west slice was scooped out of one big chunk of elevated terrain to form the two individual peaks.

I'd driven past Pease Mountain hundreds of times because it literally rises right up from just beyond the edge of Route 7 in Charlotte, but I'd never really set foot on it as far as I knew. What I did know was that it seemed to be a popular make out spot for some of the Charlotte crew back in high school. Also, a friend of E's that works at Charlotte Central School has done some school-related activities there, and it seemed as though the area contained some sort of public or semi-public land. I had been to the gas station (Steve's Citgo) below the mountain many times, as well as the fabulous Creemee stand (Uncle Sam's Dairy Bar) that sits next to it. On a side note, I guess usage of the term "Creemee" may be a bit more regional than I ever thought it was. It's soft-serve ice cream, and although I could swear I've heard it at least throughout New England and other parts of the northeast, it seems to have special usage in Vermont. Here's what has to say about it on the web:

Creemee "Sometimes spelled 'Cree-Mee' or 'Cree Mee'. A Vermont term for soft-serve ice cream. The term is unique to the state of Vermont, and is not widely used in bordering states. Though there are many restaurants and soft-serve ice cream stands with names like 'Cree-mee Bar' 'Creemee Treat' and 'Cree-mee Freeze' in the United States, the word isn't used as a noun outside of Vermont."

I'm not sure how correct that is, but I ran across it while preparing this report and found it interesting. Of course, James and I wouldn't be able to enjoy a Creemee after our day on the mountain, because Uncle Sam's isn't open during the winter.

James did a bit of recon that Friday (the day before our tour of the mountain) when he was out and about, wanting to make sure we'd have an appropriate place to park and gain access to the mountain. Between the large lots surrounding the gas station and the Creemee stand, it looked like access to the slopes wouldn't be difficult, and we'd be able to keep the car out of everyone's way. James had been worried that his injured ankle wasn't quite up to snuff for a ski day yet, but he'd been working outside on it for a few weeks, and seemed convinced that it could handle the skiing.

That Friday also featured yet another snowfall event in the valley, our 29th of the season in Waterbury. It actually turned out to be our third largest valley snowstorm for the winter up to that point (9.9 inches in Waterbury) and since the new snow had some interesting ramifications on our skiing, I've included some of my weather reports below. For those that want to move on with the skiing, skip down to below the weather stuff to the continuation of the trip report. There was a lot of concern with that storm about mixed precipitation, but it turned out to be essentially just another great shot of snow for most of the Northern New England areas. Killington and Pico actually picked up 20 new inches of snow out of the deal, which was pretty decent considering all the hype and concern about mixed precipitation. Sometimes the sleet and freezing rain can wind up a lot further north than what the weather models suggest, so some concern is often warranted. Fortunately, although I heard that there were signs of sleet all the way to the U.S./Canadian border, they seemed to be very brief and didn't affect the new powder. Here are some Burlington/Waterbury area weather observations from the Friday storm:

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

6:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT.

New Snow: 3.2 inches
Temperature: 27.5 F
Humidity 95%
Wind: 5-10 MPH
Sky: Snow
Cumulative storm total: 3.2 inches
Current snowpack depth: 28 inches
Season snowfall total: 94.4 inches

"We were experiencing moderate to heavy snowfall at the house in Waterbury this morning when I took my first measurement for this storm. Not too long after that, I headed west on Route 2 to Burlington. At 6:28 A.M., just as I was approaching Jonesville, I heard the first ticks of sleet on the windshield. The sleet gradually became more prevalent, and the temperature had risen to 30 degrees F at that point. I figured it was all going to be downhill from there in terms of snowfall, but after 5-10 minutes, snow mixed back in and the sleet totally disappeared. By the time I got to Burlington, the temperature was down to 22 F and big fluffy flakes of snow were coming down with vigor. The roads were quite good for the most part, with just packed snow or even open pavement in places. Some visibility issues at times when the wind would kick up."

1:00 P.M. update from Waterbury, VT.

New snow since previous reading: 4.8 inches
Temperature: 32.5 F
Humidity 98%
Cumulative storm total: 8.0 inches
Season snowfall total: 99.2 inches

"E called in with the 1:00 P.M. Waterbury observations since she was at the house. She said that nothing much was coming out of the sky at that point. We're knocking on the door of the 100-inch snowfall mark for the season in Waterbury, so maybe another burst of snow will help us get there. Here in Burlington, the snowfall has now picked up again (as of 2:00 P.M.)."

6:00 P.M. update from Waterbury, VT.

New snow since last measurement: 1.2 inches
Temperature: 32.4 F
Humidity 98%
Wind: Calm
Sky: Light snow
Cumulative storm total: 9.2 inches
Current snowpack depth: 33 inches
Season snowfall total: 100.4 inches

"Well, we made it. With the latest accumulation of snow we finally hit the century mark for snowfall this season. When the snow shut off after only 8 inches with this storm, I thought we'd have to wait until the next snowfall, but the second wave of snow took care of that. I'm not sure if there is an official annual snowfall figure for the Waterbury area, but based on the averages for Burlington, and Cochran's Ski Area in Richmond, my best guess is that it's somewhere around 100 inches. So, even with a slow start, it looks like this season has been at least average for snowfall. There's still 2-3 months of potential snowfalls to come, so it should be fun to see where we end up. It's still snowing lightly, so there may still be a bit more accumulation from this storm."

It looks like central Vermont was the hotbed of snowfall accumulations for the ski areas this time around; here are some of the higher Vermont accumulations I've found:

Killington: 20 inches
Pico: 20 inches
Okemo: 14 inches
Jay Peak: 12 inches
Mount Snow: 12 inches
Smuggler's: 12 inches
Stowe: 12 inches
Stratton: 12 inches
Sugarbush: 10 inches
Bolton Valley: 9 inches
Mad River Glen: 9 inches

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

7:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT.

New snow since last measurement: 0.7 inches
Temperature: 25.0 F
Humidity 98%
Wind: Calm
Sky: Partly Cloudy
Cumulative storm total: 9.9 inches
Current snowpack depth: 32 inches
Season snowfall total: 101.1 inches

"We picked up another 0.7 inches of snow last night after my 6:00 P.M. measurement, bringing our storm total to 9.9 inches. Much of last night's snow came in a short period when we were out shoveling. The moon was visible, but a period of snow came through with quarter-sized snowflakes that simply floated down in the totally calm air. It was beautiful with the exterior lights on at night. A little light snow had fallen earlier, but those big flakes were the sort that just pile up very quickly with incredible loft, so they made up the bulk of the accumulation that I found this morning on the snowboard. Even with that accumulation, the snowpack has settled down a bit to 32 inches."

OK, now back to the ski trip report. One piece of cool news from the storm was that we passed the century mark for our season's snowfall in Waterbury, reaching 101.1 inches by Saturday morning. We hadn't quite hit 100 inches before the end of February, but we'd made it by the first couple days of March, and it's always fun to hit milestones like that. The other good thing was that it meant we would have some new snow for our trip to Pease Mountain.

Back in February, James had planned to come over to our place in Waterbury, ski some backcountry in the Bolton area with me, and then his family was going to come over to join us for dinner. Well, when James hurt his ankle pretty seriously the day before that was supposed to happen, it put the kibosh on that plan. But, the Pease Mountain plan gave us a chance to reverse the process, since Pease was pretty close to James and Kim's place in Waltham. I headed down to Waltham in morning, and E and the boys planned to come by later that day for dinner. The whole drive from Waterbury was fantastic because it was a clear day, and with the new snow, the Green Mountains were looking fabulous. As I was heading down Route 7, I made sure to scope out the new snowfall in the Pease Mountain area, and I was relieved to see that they'd received what looked like 4 to 6 inches of new stuff. I had been a bit concerned because when I was passing through Shelburne, it looked like they'd received hardly an inch of new snow. Down at James' house there were a similar 4 to 6 inches of new snow like I'd seen in Charlotte, with a bit of a glaze. His driveway was still full of snow because his skid steer was in the shop, but the Subaru did a good job of getting me up there. We hung out for a bit, fired up Google Earth to check out the Pease Mountain terrain in 3-D, prepped our gear, and then we were on our way.

The temperature was at 37 F when I'd reached James' place, and it was at 38 F by the time we arrived at the mountain. We knew the temperatures weren't going to be a recipe for champagne powder, but on the other hand, it was kind of nice to have sun and a touch of spring after so many weeks of hard core winter. We parked the car just along the edge of the Creemee stand, and made sure that it would be out of the way. While we were suiting up, a pretty large skid steer pulled up to the diesel pump, and James made a comment about how you know it's been snowing when that's what pulls up to your pump this time of year. I didn't know it at the time, but the driver of the skid steer turned out to be Nate, a local landscaper that James knows. Nate lives right over on Church Hill Road on the edge of Jones Hill. We had just gotten on our way and had climbed over the snow bank onto Root Road right below the mountain, when up comes Nate in his skid steer. He gave us the lowdown on everything of course. He said there was no problem parking where we were because nothing around there was open. He had also skied Pease Mountain in the past (I'm not sure how often) and he said that the terrain was definitely STEEP. There wasn't going to be any problem finding terrain with pitch. He told us the general lay of the land, and filled us in on the road on the north side of the mountain that might make for good skinning. James and Nate rapped for a while about work and stuff like that, and then we were on our way.

We skinned across a small field toward the northwest corner of the mountain, passing by a trailer that was absolutely entombed in snow. We entered the trees on the mountainside, and after a bit of slow route finding through some brushy areas, we finally found a nice path for skinning. Nate had mentioned that there were a lot of deer in the area, and we saw a lot of tracks, some scat, and even a bed. We were aiming to skin up the mellower north side of the mountain, and managed to find a cleared power line and the road that Nate had mentioned. I'm not sure if the road sees any winter use, but it hadn't been plowed at all and worked great as a skinning route. The power line and the road could also provide some great turns depending on the depth and consistency of the new snow. The power line was plenty steep for the snow conditions we encountered, and we debated taking a run there. We decided to hold onto the idea of the power line as a potential second run so we could make sure we got at least one shot to explore the west face. It was amazing that even the low elevation valley snowpack was still settling at that point, even though it had been a couple of weeks since the big Valentine's Day storm. At times, when the two of us were placed just right, we'd cause a huge area of the snowpack to suddenly settle and we'd both drop down a few inches with a resounding "whumph". We were both unnerved by the instability sounds as usual, but managed to get used to it because we were in relatively safe terrain with regard to avalanches. We would soon find out that the safety of the trees would be even more important when we started skiing the steep west face of the mountain. Although the base layers in the snowpack weren't going to give us any trouble, the new layer of snow on the surface had other ideas.

At an elevation of roughly 540 feet, we reached a large radio tower at the top of the road. It turns out that the tower is for WIZN, one of the local FM stations. The road ended there, at least in the direction we wanted to go, so we headed west/southwest back into the trees and aimed to hike along the top of the west face. The skinning in that area was really nice with the gentle slope of the terrain and the relatively brush-free forest. We continued south until we found ourselves atop a knoll at an elevation of 636 feet according to the GPS. We were surprised to find that we weren't on a direct path to the 800-foot summit of Pease Mountain, but there was a col between the knoll we were on, and the actual summit to our southeast. We talked about how that's one of the joy's of the exploration: No matter how much you look at an area from a distance, or investigate it with topographic maps, satellite pictures, etc., there's often much more detail that you'll discover when you actually get there. Actually, you can see this knoll on the high-resolution 1:24K topographic maps, but it's a bit subtle in its depiction and didn't prepare us for how cool it actually was. The col between the knoll and the peak dropped down about 50-100 feet, and the pitch and openness of the terrain on the east face dropping into the col was just too cool to pass up. We decided we had to drop in there for some turns. Being on the knoll, we also got a great look at the ski terrain dropping from the real summit to our southeast. There were sweet-looking ski lines of probably 200-300 vertical that dropped into the col, and then beyond that, it looked like there were lines that dropped the 500+ vertical feet from the summit all the way down to the base of the mountain. I checked the depth of the snowpack on top of the knoll, and found it to be 23 inches. That's certainly not an extraordinary depth, so in many winters one could expect to find similar Pease Mountain conditions to what we encountered as long as their timing was right.

James cautiously skied down into the col, making sure he was careful with his first turns on his ankle, but seemed to have a nice run. Then, I dropped down the face of the knoll with three big sweeping turns – it was a blast! The snow was a bit heavy with the warming air temperature of course, but it was manageable and that little slice of invisible terrain had really delivered. We took a look up at the terrain stretching down from the summit, which looked like a lot of fun, but we decided to contour around the knoll and hit the terrain on the west face that had actually inspired the outing. Reaching the top of the west face below the knoll, we traversed along as we looked for the lines we liked the best. Snow coverage was excellent and boy was the terrain steep! James spied a shallow gully, and we decided to try some turns there. I made some turns and found that it was just too steep for the spacing of the trees. I was already on a pitch of at least 25-30 degrees, and then the pitch rolled over and out of sight below that! It would actually be amazing with a couple feet of powder. Sometimes it can be a challenge to find terrain suitably steep for skiing in a couple feet of fresh snow, but the whole west face of Pease Mountain would offer up a sweet ride in such conditions. With the gully being just a bit too steep for the tree spacing with the current depth and density of the surface snow, we traversed southward a bit more to grab some turns on something just a little shallower. We found it, and started in with some turns.

It was somewhere at the top of the west face where we set off the first slide. If there had been any question about the steepness of the west face of Pease Mountain, it was quickly squelched. I couldn't believe my eyes when I made a turn, and suddenly the fresh layer of snow just slid and headed down the slope. While it slid, it just fanned out and got wider and wider. It seemed like the typical type of point release that I've seen on steep spring slopes in the past, but I'd never seen them fan out so fast before. It probably fanned out at close to 45 degrees from vertical on each side, and it just kept grabbing more and more snow as it went. New snow below the slide would quickly get engulfed and folded into the growing mass. It was a bit scary to watch, because were it not for the trees, the slide clearly would have ripped out all the new snow down to the bottom of the slope. There would have been a huge triangle of terrain missing its top layer of snow, with the top point of the triangle at my feet, and the base of the triangle (as well as a huge pile of wet snow) at the bottom of the mountain a couple hundred feet below. As it was, I still had a small triangle (10-15 feet tall) of terrain below me that was missing its top layer of snow. You could really watch as the trees diffused the affect, and it definitely took more than a single tree to slow the slides down if they really got going. The snow on the west face was notably different that what we'd skied when we'd headed east down into the col, and the power of the sun on the west facing terrain was pretty impressive. After we'd observed the phenomenon a bit and had a feel for it, it was actually pretty cool to watch. It's too bad we didn't get it on video, but we had put away the video cameras and were focusing on still photography at that point. On one section I raced my slough down the hill, and it was fun to try to work with it and get the feel for the moving snow. Not that I advise anyone to play around with wet slides of course, but under our controlled circumstances it was a rather benign experience. We did have to watch out for whoever was working the cameras from below. Either the photographer needed to be behind a thick tree, or the skier needed to be off to the side such that a potential slide would be well out of their way. One of the more fun episodes was when I set off a roller ball that survived all the way to the bottom of the slope, at which point the ball/disc was 2 to 3 feet high. We couldn't believe it held together all that way, but it was a perfect example of the verb form of the word "snowball".

One of the most impressive things about the part of the west face we skied was the consistency of the pitch. For most of the 200-300 feet down from the knoll, it held a very consistent slope angle that made for great skiing. There were some areas with variability on the face of course (like the gully that rolled over), but many lines were remarkably consistent. That sort of consistency is nice when you want to ski steep terrain in deeper snow and don't want to have to slog through lots of flat terrain in between steeper pitches. What was also interesting was that despite the steep pitch, the terrain didn't seem to be ledgy or rocky - as far as we could tell it was just trees and soil below us. I really wish I'd brought my inclinometer, but I didn't think to take it along for the trip. I had the electronic inclinometer on my Suunto S6, but I didn't think of it at the time either, and I'm still learning the nuances of getting a slope measurement with that instrument anyway. But, just by making an educated guess from experience, I'd say the pitch of the steep sections of the west face had to be in the range of 30-35 degrees, with some spots even a bit steeper. A quick calculation from the topographic map on the west face of Pease from an elevation of 400 feet to 700 feet provides a rise of 300 feet and a run of 0.09 miles (475 feet), suggesting a grade of roughly 63%. That translates to a pitch of 32.2 degrees if my trigonometry is correct, so I that seems to jive with my estimate. Regardless of the numbers, it's certainly steep enough for snow to slide, although I'm not sure how shallow the slope could be and still support the wet slides we saw.

At the bottom of the west face, the terrain was a bit more open so the sun had hit it a little harder and further softened the snow. But, the more open lines were nice. We finished off the run by skiing down onto Root Road. We traversed on our skis along the snowbank there for a bit, but then decided to walk the last 50 yards or so back to the car as the banks became too steep. Once we geared down a little, we hung out while we had some soup, cheese, and bread to hold us over until dinner. It was pretty nice to sit there tail gaiting in the afternoon sun and enjoying a taste of spring. James fired up his grill later that evening when we were with the families, and made three different kinds of grilled chicken; it was a pretty nice way to cap off our "taste of spring" day.

Up in the higher elevations, winter hadn't really taken a hiatus. Even as James and I were enjoying our post tour tail gate session in the sun, high clouds from the west were moving in ahead of the next weather event. Bolton would manage to pick up 6-8 inches of light fluffy snow by the next morning, on their way to roughly 2 feet for the Friday through Monday period. E and I headed up to Bolton the next day with the boys and we were skiing in almost a foot of fresh powder while it continued to dump. It was quite a dramatic difference in ski atmosphere between the two ski days. It sounded like a lot of people were surprised by the Sunday/Monday portion of the snowfall, and those that were out on the slopes had a blast.

So, our first trip to ski Pease Mountain rewarded us with quite an exciting and fun ski experience, even if the snow wasn't mid-winter light. We only did one lap on this trip since we were sort of exploring, with the Avocet recording 330' and the Suunto recording 354' of vertical descent. Even though Mt. Philo (980') is slightly taller and probably better known than Pease Mountain, I've skied both and have to give the upper hand to Pease Mountain for earning powder turns in the trees. The potential vertical is similar for the two mountains because the base of Mt. Philo is higher, and I just haven't seen as much open terrain with consistently steep pitch on Mt. Philo in my explorations there. Mt. Philo does have a nice paved road all the way to the summit, which actually makes for a good skinning route when it's covered with snow. The road can also provide some good turns as long as the snow isn't too deep (E and I skied the Mt. Philo road at night with head lamps and it was a lot of fun) but I don't think it beats out what Pease might be able to deliver after a good valley dump. We'll have to go back to Pease Mountain again at some point when appropriate conditions develop and try some runs off the true summit; I know James can't wait for that the way he was eyeing those lines. James has been examining the Pease Mountain terrain we skied each time he goes by in his car, and the other day he saw that someone had set down more tracks. So it looks like Nate, or maybe some other folks have been out there earning 'em on the west slope.

Some pictures and data from the day can be found here