Based on today’s forecast of cloudy skies and temperatures in the 30-40 F range, there wasn’t a huge incentive to ski, but we did head up to Stowe for our afternoon session so I can provide an update. Skies were actually pretty bright with a few small breaks in the clouds when we arrived at Spruce a bit after noon. I’m not sure of the temperature at the base at that point, but it was probably around 40 F. Fortunately, along with some sun, that warmth was enough to get the corn snow on the Spruce terrain to soften up nicely, at least to the top of the Sunny Spruce Quad (~2,500’). I never got above that elevation on Spruce, but below that everything skied great. The areas like West Smuggler’s, Freddie’s Chute, and the upper parts of Meadows that seem most susceptible to snow loss, were closed or inaccessible due to coverage, but just about everything else off Sunny Spruce was in fine shape as far as we saw.
The kids wanted to head over to Mansfield, and the conditions had been so nice on Spruce that it seemed like it would be worth a trip to check it out. Conditions on the Mansfield side were definitely not the same as what we’d experienced over on Spruce; only the bottom few hundred vertical feet of Mansfield had softened up. The bumpy part of upper Perry Merrill was a nasty bulletproof moonscape, and most of Gondolier was hard except for the last couple of pitches. Cliff Trail felt like a mini half pipe of ice with the occasional crowds of skiers trying to squeeze through it. The saving grace on some trails was the strip of soft snow that had been pushed to the sides, but the somewhat concave nature and narrowness of Cliff Trail meant that it didn’t even really have those. Cliff Trail, which was probably my favorite Stowe run as a kid, has certainly become one of my least favorite runs this season. Lower Nosedive was bad enough that I actually switched my left and right skis to get some new edges for the first time this season. At around 3:00 P.M. the temperature written at the bottom of the Forerunner Quad was 36 F. Although I’m not exactly sure what time that was from, it seemed reasonable based on the elevation where the snow started to soften. With the sun heading west and the clouds coming in, it also seemed as though it had cooled a bit from earlier in the day.
As bad as all the Mansfield skiing had been, by far the roughest run of the day was our last one on Mansfield. Luke, one of our students, wanted to ski Midway from National, which meant taking part of National/Liftline. I was actually most inclined to take him on it for the absurdity of it all: rock hard ice and hard pack bumps on steep pitches. Ty was also in our group, and was initially uninterested in going on such an escapade, but I talked him into it. I suspect he’d never skied anything quite so heinous in terms of the combination of pitch and firmness, so it would be a “good” experience. I had the boys look at Upper National as we passed by above it, just to see what they would say. It literally looked like a no-fall zone at the very top, as it must be an almost 40-degree pitch covered with pure ice in places. With no intention of actually subjecting them to that terrain, I asked them if they wanted to ski it, just to see what they’d say. I don’t think they quite understood the actual gravity of trying to ski that, but they definitely shied away. We traversed over to Liftline and I took them on the easiest possible line there. It was still nasty enough that Luke got stuck on a section of steep ice in the sort of way that you feel you can’t move or you’re going to start a slide for life. As I began hiking up to assist him, he managed to physically and mentally gain hold on the ice and was able to get back into some turns. That was nice to see. Ty did a nice job in general of taking on that part of Liftline, and while he didn’t enjoy it, I don’t blame him. Down below, things gradually got easier, and on Lower National I did show the boys that while I wouldn’t recommend it, it was possible to ski the porcelain bumps there. Doing a section of bumps there probably provided as much stress to my knees as the entire rest of the season. The boys gave an effort in those bumps as well, but quickly got themselves back on the groomed terrain. The actually goal of the run, Midway, was still all hard, but at least partially groomed. The only really pleasant part of the run was the very bottom of National, which had fairly soft corn covering moderate angle bumps. The boys had a lot more fun on that, although it was just a few hundred vertical feet. Coverage on Mt. Mansfield was great overall, with just some of the steeper natural snow trails having some open spots.
We did one more run over at Spruce before the end of the day, and the snow was still nice and soft. With the great conditions on Spruce Peak, it didn’t seem like there was much sense in going over to the Mansfield side, but the kids had some fun. I’d say there wasn’t much melting anywhere at Stowe today, even on Spruce, and that Mansfield glacier should last quite a while into the spring. They even picked up 4 inches of snow up high last night. Thanks to Powderfreak’s link, I can see with the real time Mansfield temperature that the higher elevations are already down in the 20s F, and there’s still precipitation coming through. Similar to last night, it seems like there could be a bit more snow tonight.