Jay Peak, VT 09MAY2010

Thanks to some of our local forecasters, we had about a week’s notice that a potential Mother’s Day Snowstorm was on the way, so there was plenty of time to get ready for it.  The cold air was expected to be pulled into the storm system by Saturday evening, and that would get the snow going.  It looked like the snow line was going to be around 1,000’ for the event, although by Thursday morning the Burlington NWS mentioned the potential for a bit of accumulation even in the lower valleys.  Roger Hill also gave SkiVT-L a heads up on Thursday, indicating that there was going to be new snow for skiing over the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday were a bit of a weather roller coaster in Waterbury.  On Saturday afternoon a summery thunderstorm passed overhead, and we even got a bit of hail from it.  By Saturday evening though, I checked the real time temperatures atop Mt. Mansfield, and saw that they had already gone below freezing.  With precipitation in the area, the mountains were probably well into the snow by that point.

I wasn’t sure what to expect down at our elevation the next morning, but when I looked outside at around 6:00 A.M., it was snowing and we had a coating of white accumulation on the elevated surfaces.  By that point we’d picked up a couple tenths of an inch accumulation and it continued to snow.  The snow waned for a bit and the temperatures edged up, but at some point after 8:00 A.M., there was a big resurgence in snowfall and we started to get more substantial accumulation.  I checked the local radar and could see an ominous-looking mass of moisture heading our way from the north-northwest.

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We hung out, had some Mother’s Day breakfast, watched the snow fall, and generally took it easy for much of the morning.  I had initially thought that we might need to get out early to get some good powder before the day warmed up, but with the way the storm was raging in the mountains, being an early bird wasn’t necessary.

In the late morning we drove northward to Jay Peak.  By that point, only minimal accumulations of snow remained in the relatively low valleys from Waterbury through Morrisville, but once we got near the Northeast Kingdom in the North Hyde Park/Eden area, the accumulations really shot up.  Snow was even accumulating on the road as we passed through Belvidere, and up on Route 242 in the final leg of our trip, there was so much snow on the road that plowing was necessary.

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A bit after noon, we pulled into Jay Peak’s Stateside lot at an elevation of roughly 2,000’ and were confronted with a veritable blizzard.  It was snowing hard, and winds were gusting to 40 MPH.  We saw a snowboarder who had just come down from a run, and he said conditions were great – except that it seemed like you were hiking directly into the wind.  E suited up, and helped get Dylan into his gear, but Ty apparently wasn’t in the mood to ski.  While we talked about options for a bit, Dylan eventually lost his momentum as well, and decided that he didn’t want to hit the snow either.  I guess I can understand how the boys might have been put off from heading out into the maelstrom – going almost directly from spring to an all out blizzard must have been pretty strange for them.  I offered to hang out with the boys and let E head out for turns, but she said she’d rather hang out with them than head up by herself, and said that I could go do a run.

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I finished getting my gear together and skinned up for a quick run in the Chalet Meadows area.  Aside from some wind-scoured spots, I measured anywhere from 4 to 18 inches of new snow on my ascent, although I guess I’d put the average accumulation at somewhere around 6 inches plus.  The snow was dense, but not wet except for in the water bars or other low spots.  It certainly skied like dense snow, and was a bit tricky, but a lot of that was due to the variability of some spots having wind crust and other being softer.  There was so much dense snow there was no need for rock skis; I wished I’d brought some newer, fatter skis because they may have made things even a little easier.

Our plan had always been to do a bit of skiing and then drive around in the car and find a new place for some lunch/brunch.  E reminded me that we wanted to take a look at Jay Peak’s new Tram Haus Lodge before we left the resort, so we headed over to the tram side of the resort to check it out.  While there, we wondered if there might be a new restaurant in the lodge, so I ran inside to take a look.  In fact there’s quite a nice restaurant in there called Alice’s Table.  It was pretty busy with Mother’s Day brunch, but after a bit of searching through her notes, the hostess said she’d be able to seat us.  I told her I’d go grab the family and be right back.  E was a bit concerned that we weren’t appropriately dressed for the restaurant, and while there were folks dressed nicely for Mother’s Day outings, there were also numerous folks wearing ski gear and more casual attire.  It is Jay Peak after all.  The brunch buffet had some excellent food, it was reasonably priced, and the boys even ate free because of a Mother’s Day special.

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After bunch we hurried back to the car through the storm.  We were all set to head home, but brunch had given Ty renewed energy and he wanted to ski.  Dylan was still a bit under the weather and wasn’t quite eager to ski, so E decided that she’d stay in the car with him while Ty and I headed up for some turns.  I let Ty choose the path of ascent, and he chose an area over near the Boulevard Trial.  I set the skin track, and we went as far as Ty wanted to go before we stopped and prepared for the descent.  With less wind over in that area, there was a pretty even coating of snow that suggested good skiing.  Ty mostly paramarked on the descent, with some heel lifting, and I could see him trying to figure out the best approach to the dense snow.  With this run longer than my first one, I had more time to diagnose the best technique for the skiing, which was a lot of fun.  I found that staying in the top couple inches of lighter powder above any wind crusts made for silky smooth turns.  That wasn’t always possible depending on the snow and the level of pressuring, and it was obvious that some additional girth in the skis would have favored turns higher on the snow.  It was mid may after all though, and I did get in some great turns and had fun experimenting.  Ty actually floated better with his lower weight, although he ultimately said he was personally unimpressed by the snow.  I don’t think he got quite the enjoyment out of experimenting with technique for the conditions the way I did.  We both agreed that we’d try to go a bit wider with his next pair of Telemark skis.  While he does use them on piste, they are definitely the tool of choice when he’s earning turns, and that often means powder snow or something of that flavor.

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Back at the car, I had left the ski rack open while Ty and I were out, and E said that the winds had been so strong there that they’d blow her skis right off the roof.  Ty and I had hardly noticed the wind up where we’d been, but Ty had chosen a good option in terms of wind protection.  We geared down and got back in the car, and the winds just continued to rage with steady snowfall.  It was getting close to 4:00 P.M. by that point and the storm showed no signs of caring about any sort of afternoon sun or warming.  The Jay Cloud was clearly in charge of the weather.

We headed down to the village of Jay on our trip back home, and in the course of about three miles and an elevation drop of a thousand feet or so, heavy winter changed over to spring.  In Jay it was still snowing, but the trees were green and lush, and the ground was devoid of snow.  It continued to snow all the way back to Waterbury, even with temperatures approaching 40 F in spots, but none of the lower valleys were supporting any accumulation.  It had been quite a unique Mother’s Day overall, hopefully one that the boys will remember for a while.  Getting snow in May isn’t all that uncommon, especially for the mountains, but getting a snowstorm to fall right on Mother’s Day is lucky… or I guess unlucky as most people might have seen it.  Additional weather details from Sunday can be found in my report to EasternUSwx.com.

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