Stowe, VT 16OCT2010
Even before the storm existed, the formation of the season’s first Nor’easter had appeared likely for several days, and with it, the appearance of at least a few flakes in the higher elevations of the Northeast seemed like a good bet. However, the question of the whether or not we’d see our first decent dump of skiable snow took a few more days to settle out. Eventually, the mountain forecasts came into focus, and it looked like the Greens were going to get good elevation snows up and down the spine. The Northern Greens seemed to be in a good spot for precipitation, but the Central and Southern Greens were likely to be closest to the core of cold air that would support the most early season snow. On Wednesday the 13th, Scott Braaten did a nice job of alerting everyone about the setup through SkiVT-L and Lionel Hutz was all over it at the FIS website.
On Friday, October 15th, the storm was underway, and morning reports were already coming in about snow falling in the Southern and Central Greens. The pictures from the Killington web cam were looking quite wintry even at the lower elevations, and when Paul Terwilliger sent in his Friday Killington trip report to SkiVT-L and said he’d already found 18 inches at the summit, it was clear that the area was getting a good shot of snow. By that point the temperatures indicated that the Northern Greens were getting plenty of snow as well, but if they weren’t going to catch up to the Killington area, I was thinking that it might be a good time to mix things up and head a bit south for turns.
My thoughts of heading south to Killington were suppressed somewhat around 8:30 P.M. that evening. After checking on our rain gauge a couple of hours earlier, I hadn’t looked outside at all, as a massive sword and ball battle had kept me busy in the basement with the boys. When I finally did look out back, I was very surprised to see that it was snowing… all the way down at our elevation of roughly 500 feet. The air temperature had dropped to 33.3 F and the precipitation was big flakes of snow, without even any rain mixed in. The snowfall lasted for a couple of hours, long enough to put down 0.3 inches of slushy accumulation on the snowboard and coat the ground white. Eventually as the precipitation slowed down, the temperature began to warm up and it all changed back over to rain. I knew that if we were getting snow all the way down to the lower valleys though, then the local mountains must have been getting pounded, so I suspected that Mt. Mansfield would come through with sufficient snow to make it worth skiing.
The next morning we had steady rain at the house, and valley temperatures in the low 40s F as Ty and I headed off to Stowe. The snow level had clearly risen up overnight, as we didn’t see any signs of snow at all until the slopes of Spruce Peak came into view. We headed to the base of the Gondola (~1,600’) which seemed to have the best accumulations of snow at low elevations. The temperature was in the upper 30 s F, and there was a gusty wind in the parking lot. Although a little thin, coverage was still enough that one could start skinning from the lot if they wanted, but we decided to hike for a bit to get some variety in the ascent. Snow depth at the bottom of Perry Merrill was 2-3 inches, but with the warming temperatures any disruptions in the snow were seeding its melting. The footprints of earlier hikers were already holes in the snow with colorful foliage showing through.
The rain fell hard at times on our ascent, and the Gore Tex was getting quite a workout. Grainy snow began to mix in with the rain at around 2,000’, and by 2,200’ we were over to all flakes. The snow on the ground was probably 6 to 8 inches deep by that point, so we switched from hiking to skinning. A couple of guys on fat AT skis merged onto Perry Merrill from Gondolier, and left us what seemed like a skin track superhighway. We followed that up to around 2,600’, which was about as far as Ty had the energy to go. Where we topped out, the snowpack was approaching 10 inches in depth.
We knew the snow was wet and potentially difficult to ski, so we wanted to be careful on the descent. Ty stuck with mostly alpine turns, but he did drop the knee here and there in mellower spots when he felt he could. Ty was able to make a lot of quick turns, which was something that I found difficult in that snow – I found that longer, smooth Telemark turns using a relatively low and stable stance worked best with the gear I had. I found it ironic that Telemark turns actually felt a lot more stable than when I tried to make alpine turns, but that might have been a function of not having a locked heel. Anyway, some really fun turns were had despite the wet snow; Ty admired the squiggly tracks he made on more than one occasion.
We had to ski a bit of grass and snow mix just above the Midway Lodge, but aside from the crossing of the service road that had melted out near the bottom of Perry Merrill, we were basically able to ski all the way back down. It was still windy back at the car, which was the windiest place we’d encountered on the entire trip. The rain had let up for the most part during our descent, but there had been a heck of a lot of moisture from the system – according the hydrologic report from stake, Mt. Mansfield picked almost 5 inches of liquid with 25 inches of snow. Even if the quality of the powder wasn’t that high compared to some October days that have kicked off the ski season, it was great to be making turns on snow.