Stowe, VT 06MAY2011
Last year we had the Mother’s Day Snowstorm to get us fresh powder turns in May, and the forecast was suggesting that some May 2011 snow was coming in this week. Roger Hill mentioned the snow potential during his forecasts on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Powderfreak started getting excited about it as well, so it looked like we were going to have some significant white stuff in the high country. By Wednesday afternoon, the temperature had dropped below freezing on the Mt. Mansfield ridge line, and thanks to Powderfreak we learned that the snow line had dropped with it. In addition, upslope precipitation appeared to be building in the Northern Greens. It was no longer a question of if it was going to snow, we were just waiting to find out how low the snow line was going to go, and how much moisture the Greens were going to wring out of the atmosphere.
Yesterday morning I stopped in at Bolton Valley on my way to Burlington to get a handle on the snow levels and accumulations in the area. I sent in a report to the Northern New England thread at Americanwx.com, and I’d observed the following elevation/precipitation/accumulation profile from the base of the Bolton Valley access road up to the Bolton Valley Village:
340’: 41F (light rain)
950’: 40F (light/moderate rain)
1,100’: 39F (moderate rain)
1,500’: 38F (moderate rain/snow)
1,800’: 37F (moderate snow)
2,000’: 36F (moderate snow)
2,100’: 35F (moderate snow, accumulating)
On the way back from Burlington yesterday evening, there were some bouts of steady rain, and as I passed by the base of the Bolton Valley access road, the temperature was the same 41F as it had been in the morning. Assuming a similar vertical temperature profile as the morning, it was likely dumping above 2,000’. Powderfreak quickly confirmed that with a report that there was already half a foot of new snow on the higher slopes of Mt. Mansfield. Up to that point the storm had delivered over an inch of liquid equivalent, as indicated by the evening reading from the stake. I checked our rain gauge at the house and found that even at our location in the valley we’d picked up 0.20 inches of additional liquid since 6:00 A.M.
This morning I got up and saw that the temperature had dropped to 35 F at the house, suggesting that the snow line may have come down a bit since yesterday evening. I looked outside to get an idea of how low the snow had come down into the hills, but saw nothing; we were totally locked up in an umbratilous fog. On the radio, Roger Hill was talking about the beautiful snow-capped peaks he was seeing, so it had to be clear somewhere out there. Hearing Powderfreak’s comments about the snowfall near the Chin, I decided to check out Stowe for turns, and as soon as I drove out of the Winooski Valley toward Waterbury, the fog broke and the beautiful views presented themselves. I could see that the mountains had fresh snow, but the most dramatic view was in Waterbury Center when I caught that first glimpse of Mansfield loaded with alpine white:
I had just made the turn onto Moscow Road when I heard a discussion about the Lake Champlain flooding on NPR, and wondered if the Luce Hill bridge might still be out from the heavy rains and snowmelt that we had a week or two ago. I decided that I’d better play it safe and turned around, which revealed that there is indeed a sign indicating that the bridge is out. The sign is right at the Moscow Road intersection though, and that’s a bit late if you are busy watching for traffic in the other lane as you prepare to make your turn. I arrived at the mountain around 7:00 A.M., parked in the Midway lot, and was able to start skinning right from the lodge. Down at 1,600’ there was just a touch of new snow on the old base, which grew to 1-2 inches by 2,000’. With the albedo off the new snow, the sun was feeling incredibly strong, even at the early hour. I hadn’t brought sunscreen, so I eventually had to put my hat back on for protection despite how warm it was. There had been a surprising amount of snow cat traffic on Perry Merrill, but no skin tracks. However, I finally got onto a skin track at one of the Gondolier junctions and followed it up. With the way that the new snow had nicely integrated onto the old base, it was often difficult to gauge the depths of what had fallen, but it seemed to be around 4 inches by the 2,500’ mark, and around 6 inches by 3,000’.
Up above 3,000’ the snow depth started increasing rapidly, and my measurements were eventually revealing about 10 inches of new snow in areas where the wind hadn’t been a factor. The views all around were fantastic since any morning clouds seemed to have dissipated. In the valley, the lush green color of the mountain’s golf course really stood out among the deciduous trees that still have a way to go before they seriously leaf out. Looking across the huge basin that makes up Stowe’s Mansfield terrain, I could even see a couple of skiers making a morning ascent of Nosedive.
The skin track I’d been following up Gondolier actually headed right up into the alpine before reaching the Cliff House, but that was a little more ambitious that I was planning for the morning, so I set the last part of the track in toward the top of the gondola. The snow was a bit windswept in spots up in that area, but there was still plenty of snow for decent turns.
The two or three riders that had gone up before me had all taken different routes than Gondolier, so I decided to focus there for my descent since I’d gotten a very good sampling of conditions on the way up. I had a pretty good sense of what the turns would be like from checking the snow, but you never know quite how it’s going to ski until you actually hit it. The snow was really smooth, and I essentially had the whole trail to myself to mix up turn styles and avoid any areas of poor coverage. Although the snow was dense Sierra Cement and not Vermont’s famous Champlain Powder™, there’s not much complaining to do when it’s May. In actuality, the dense snow was the best thing to most efficiently cover up the old base snow, and on the top half of the mountain where it was dry, it skied beautifully. A typical turn meant sinking in just an inch or two, even if you really horsed it, so there was little concern about whatever was underneath.
About halfway through the descent the temperatures and sun started to reveal their effects on the new snow, and it began to get sticky. At roughly that elevation, the skiing actually began to get a bit tricky because accumulations were still decent and you had to manage substantial thick snow. Down on the bottom ¼ of the mountain however, the skiing became easier once again because the accumulations of new snow were thin enough that you were mostly skiing on the sun-softened corn snow below. It was quite a fun exploration of snow and skiing subtleties through that vertical descent.
It was around 8:30 A.M. or so when I was finishing up, and additional skiers were arriving at the mountain to make their turns. One gentleman was there with his father for some skiing, and I filled him in on the conditions I’d encountered when he inquired. I later hear him talking about how they’d gone all the way down the Moscow route before having to turn around because of the bridge being out, so it does seem like that sign on Route 100 can be missed fairly easily. Thanks to all the local forecasters for keeping us apprised of when the snow was coming, and thanks to Mother Nature for delivering the goods to make another great day of fresh snow skiing in May.