Bolton Valley, VT 31DEC2011

An image of the main upper mountain at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont with low clouds
Today had a bit of a Pacific Northwest flavor on the mountain, with low clouds and soft snow.

We knew that today was going to be a big day up at the mountain.  Kenny and his family just returned home yesterday from holidays in New York City, and the plan was to get together with us for some skiing at Bolton.  A couple close friends of their family were coming to ski as well, and with Stephen and his crew up for the morning, that made a total of 15 people with whom we were likely to ski.  With varying abilities and instructional goals, everyone wasn’t necessarily going to be skiing together all at once, but with eight kids, the outing was likely to be quite a mettlesome affair.

The day started off with good timing; we arrived right around the same time as Kenny and his family, so assembling in the lodge and getting day tickets for those that needed them was an easy process.  The pre-arranged plan was for E and Uncle Forrest to provide a bit of instruction to Marlene and Ashley in the Mighty Mite area so that they could get their feet wet on their first outing of the season.  Meanwhile, Jeff and I took all the kids up the Mid Mountain Lift so that Kenny, Liana, and Isabella could do a few laps and get their turns flowing.  After just a couple of runs their turns and control were really coming along, although we did have to keep Kenny from playing too hard with Ty and Dylan in the jumps and other terrain along the edge of the trail until he was ready.  Helena quickly joined up with us, and after watching the other kids working on their turns, I was especially impressed at how confident and fluid she looked in her turning.  Soon, our ranks swelled a bit more as Stephen, Johannes and Thomas joined us for a bit.  Temperatures were in the mid 30s F, so the snow softened nicely and was perfect for digging in an edge.  I was once again impressed at just how good Bear Run is for folks that are working on their turns; there are a couple of slightly steeper spots, but none that are overwhelming, and the trail really meanders down the mountain at a fairly consistent and friendly pitch.

We hadn’t done too many runs before Isabella (the youngest of course) insisted that she needed more challenge.  The routine of Bear Run was already making her impatient and she wanted to hit something else.  It felt like everyone was ready, so we stepped it up next with the recently-opened Beech Seal.  Everyone did fine, although there was no question that the increased pitch put a little more pressure on the less advanced children – Isabella definitely got lazy toward the bottom and stopped making here turns.  Jeff and I both got on her case for that.  In any event, the snow was just as soft as we’d encountered on Bear Run, and it was really nice to hit that steeper pitch and really sink the edges into the snow.

We met up with the folks who had been on the Mighty Mite around that time, and learned that instruction had gone well; Marlene was working her way toward parallel turns with wedge Christies, and Ashley was working on various aspects of her wedge.  The only issue is that there had been a big pause due to adjustment needs in their leased/rented boots.  Even though their boots were from another shop, the folks in the Bolton Valley rental area were great with assistance with fitting, and figured out exactly the adjustment that was giving them all their discomfort with that specific boot model.  Knowing how painful the situation had been, big kudos go out to the shop folks for saving the day.

With the Mighty Mite crew joining us, we did some additional trips down Bear Run that allowed Marlene to ski with the kids – she was looking really good with her parallel turns and seemed to be having a great time.  Naturally with the huge group, everyone’s pace wasn’t quite the same, so Jeff and I had let Ty and Kenny run circuits at their own speed.  Liana did the same thing, and although they don’t typically do a lot of time at the resort alone, they took care of themselves quite well.

Finally, we had progressed to the point that we decided to do a run off the Vista Quad – Ashley had gone in for a break, but everyone else in the group was heading up.  Ty had been excited to get to the upper mountain, and had been talking it up enough to Kenny that he was getting excited as well.  Since there was the potential for more challenge, I’m sure Isabella was happy as well.  While we’d been below cloud level on the lower mountain, the Vista Peak area was socked in, and it was very impressive just how thick the clouds were.  We started with the full Sherman’s Pass route to make it as easy as possible on everyone that was working on their turns.  The kids played in all the jumps along the edges of the trail and had a blast.  On-slope visibility was difficult at the top of the mountain, but those thick clouds tapered off well before we even got down to the Mid Mountain level.

With that run under everyone’s belts, it was easy to get a consensus to break for lunch; Stephen and his crew had to leave by 1:00 P.M., so they had gone in to eat earlier, but we still had quite a large group.  Despite the soft snow, the cloudy weather and potential for a few showers seemed to keep many people home, so that meant neither the slopes nor lodge were crowded – that was good news for our group at prime lunch time.  Personally, I thought the conditions were great; it felt like classic Pacific Northwest ski conditions in the lower elevations – a little heavy on the clouds and moisture in the air, but it was more than made up for by very comfortable temperatures and soft snow.  In any event, we had any easy time getting all the tables we needed for the large group upstairs on the lodge.  The kids took care of the hunger they’d accumulated with all those morning runs, and charged themselves up for the afternoon.  Later, when I asked Ty about things he remembered from the day, he spoke of the awesome cheeseburger he had for lunch… so obviously it made an impression.  Oh, and he also mentioned Kenny’s pizza, which seemed to disappear quickly.

An image of various people from our group having lunch in the base lodge at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Enjoying lunch with our big group in the base lodge

We were right back on the quad in the afternoon, and although I wasn’t sure how ready everyone was for more challenging options beyond Sherman’s Pass, Jeff made the executive decision of heading down Bull Run.  Technically I think it’s labeled a beginner run, but it’s got some more challenging sections, including that last dive down to Mid Mountain that would probably be rated advanced on its own.  The pitch made it difficult for the girls to commit to their turns, especially since it’s a natural snow trail and coverage was a little thin to further constrain the line options.  I helped by carrying Isabella through the crux, and Liana took that section by sliding on her back in the soft snow.  Everyone seemed to have a really good time though, and they were laughing about it as we slid across the Mid Mountain area.  The clouds had lowered pretty far by the afternoon, even below Mid Mountain, so many folks were calling it an early afternoon.  While the reduced visibility can be great for working on your balance if you’ve reached a certain level of skiing, it can make it quite difficult when you’re first starting out.  I heard one guy in the lodge mention that he only did a couple of runs because he just couldn’t see well enough to be confident in his skiing.

An image of snowboarders riding the Vista Quad Chair in heavy fog at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Clouds enveloped the mountain peaks today and visibilities dropped to incredibly low levels on the upper mountain.

With the clouds lowering the way they were, after a couple of quad runs we decided to finish off with Mid Mountain Lift to keep us below the densest clouds.  People were excited to check out Glades, and although I was a little worried about the uneven terrain or potential coverage issues for the beginners, I quickly acquiesced.  Coverage wasn’t too bad, but not quite to the level it was when it opened up on December 30th, 2006.  I bring up that day because the 2006-2007 season started slowly, very much like this one – it wasn’t until the end of December that natural snow terrain really started to open up.  So, even with the early season coverage on Glades, Ty, Dylan and Kenny ate it up; the huge leap in skiing that Kenny had made that day was most evident as I watched him easily hang with Ty and Dylan.  The boys schussed the run so fast that we had time to hit the Waffle Cabin at the base while we waited for the girls.  The boys had already finished their waffle by the time everyone else arrived, but E said all of the girls had done really well – it just took time as she coached them on how to deal with uneven terrain by taking it one turn at a time, and there were a couple of small tumbles that just required a lot of time for reassembly.  It had been a great day for Kenny and his family all around, and it looks like they’ll hit the ground running when ski program starts up next week at Stowe.

Bolton Valley, VT 30DEC2011

An image of Jay skiing in powder on the Lower Turnpike trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont - December 30, 2011
Today we finally had a chance to catch up with some the powder that has accumulated form the recent holiday snowstorms.

Although we headed out to the mountain yesterday to check out the powder from the recent storm, we really didn’t get to explore all the areas that we’d wanted to hit.  The frigid weather had the snow feeling a bit slow, and the boys got cold pretty quickly in the single digit temperatures and wind.  With the warmer weather today though, we headed back out this afternoon for more exploration.  One of the problems yesterday was that E and the boys hung around outside and waited while I parked the car, headed into the lodge, changed into my gear, etc.; that didn’t really help them in terms of staying warm.  Today however, they decided to hit the slopes and take a run while I got ready.  They typically use the Snowflake Lift for these types of shorter runs, but since Snowflake isn’t in operation yet, they took a run off the Mid Mountain Lift.  They decided to take a trip through The Enchanted Forest – it looked like it had a lot of snow when we looked at it yesterday, and today we saw that the mountain had decided to open it up.  After their run, when I caught up with E and the boys at the base of the lift, E gave me the update on the conditions there.  Although it was certainly skiable, it was probably best earlier in the morning before it had seen much traffic.  Fortunately rocks weren’t really an issue, but E said that areas of grass were coming through and there was enough navigating around them that it wasn’t really worth doing again – we’d likely be able to find better snow elsewhere. 

With those observations in hand, we got ourselves over to Wilderness to catch up on some of that exploration on our agenda.  We checked out the Wilderness Lift Line in the area below the Wilderness Mid Station, but with the way the wind had hit it, it didn’t look all that appealing, so we decided to continue on over to Cougar where there’s a bit more protection from the wind.  The Cougar Headwall had a few tracks on it, and there were actually a couple other groups of skiers hitting it up while we were there.  The best powder pockets were off to the sides, and especially the skier’s left where the wind had been minimal and any wind slab was reduced in thickness.

An image of Erica and Dylan heading over to the Wilderness area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Heading over to Wilderness for some powder

Things actually got even better when we dropped down onto Lower Turnpike.  The pitch was less, but that meant that terrain could support a lot more traffic.  There had maybe been a dozen skiers on it before us, and spending some time in the tracked areas was actually quite useful if the pitch mellowed too much for the amount of powder available.  And the powder was very good – we found ourselves in 8 to 12 inches of medium weight powder over a nicely consolidated base.  A few water bars still had to be approached cautiously, and optimal crossing points chosen, but between the base and all the new powder from the past two storms, coverage was more than sufficient.  Near the top of the run, a group of kids had built a backcountry kicker and they looked like they were having a good session.  We did some photography of our own skiing, although it was actually getting difficult because it was later in the day and the light was fading.  All in all though it was a beautifully long run filled with powder that more than made up for what we’d skipped yesterday.

An image ofAn image of Jay skiing powder on the Lower Turnpike trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the powder on Lower Turnpike

By the time we hit the bottom of Lower Turnpike it was getting dark enough that the lights were coming on for night skiing, but we weighed our options for more skiing with the boys as we shuffled back from the bottom of the Wilderness lift toward the base lodge.  Dylan said he didn’t really feel like doing another run, while Ty was pococurante and said he could go either way.  We decided to split the difference and do a quick run off the Mid Mountain Lift – we were in part excited that it was a chance for Mom to catch a run under the lights.  It had been a while since she’d been out for an evening session, and we had so much fun under the lights last Friday that we wanted another taste.  Since the mountain had recently opened Beech Seal for the season, we decided to have a go at it.  We’d watched them making snow on it yesterday, and at times it had looked like they were basically just spraying water on it while they adjusted the guns, but it looked quite nice now that the snowmaking whales had been smoothed out by the groomers.  We had a nice run, and with the increased pitch relative to Bear Run it was a good change of pace.  E really enjoyed it and commented on how easy it was to ski it now on her Telemark skis, when at one point early on in her Telemark career it had been the bane of her existence.

That run was enough to satiate us after that long Wilderness tour though, and we know that we’re likely to have a big day tomorrow when we ski with a large group of friends.  We’re really enjoying the moderating temperatures after yesterday’s cold snap, and tomorrow looks like it’s should be plenty warm, with temperatures in the 30s F even up in the mountains.

Bolton Valley, VT 29DEC2011

An image of Dylan skiing powder in the Bear Run Woods at Bolton Valley in Vermont on December 29, 2011
The two feet of snow from the storms this week has finally allowed at least some minimal off piste skiing to get going at Bolton Valley.

Thanks to the second big snowstorm of the holiday week, the mountains picked up another foot of snow, so we decided to hit Bolton to check it out.  When I’d headed up for turns yesterday afternoon/evening, it was still snowing very hard with plenty of wind, but it looked like areas that weren’t affected by the wind were going to offer up some excellent powder turns today.  One downside to the storm was that it also ushered in some fairly cold air, bringing temperatures down to around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  With that in mind, we didn’t rush right off to the slopes in the morning, but let the air warm up a bit because we knew it was going to be a bit rough for the boys.  By mid morning we’d reached the mid teens F at the house, so we decided it was time to get going.  We also got a little extra incentive to ski when we discovered that the mountain was beginning to open up some new, natural snow terrain for the first time this season due to all the additional snow.  In the morning snow report on the Bolton Valley Website, the indicated that trails like the Wilderness Lift Line would be opening, and that was very exciting to hear.  We also let the boys have a go at their powder skis for the first time this season, so that got them psyched up a bit for the outing, even if it wasn’t a mega dump of snow and were weren’t rushing out for first tracks.

An image of Bolton Valley's Timberline area on December 29, 2011 with ski tracks from people earning turns
The natural snow has gotten deep enough that people have even been out earning turns at Bolton Valley's Timberline area.

Even down at the lower elevations of the Timberline area (~1,500’) we could see the effects of the new snow – the Timberline trails looked to have decent coverage, and ski tracks were visible, indicating that people had clearly been out earning turns.  We found that the temperatures were in the upper single digits at the main base of the mountain, but the bright blue skies at least meant that the sun would be giving us a bit of warmth.  That sort of fooled E and the boys though, in that they waited outside by the base area ski racks while I parked the car and went into the lodge to put on my gear.  They had to wait outside for a decent stretch of time, but they seemed to be doing OK, we all hopped on the Vista Quad together for a run off the top.  It was indeed colder and windy up top, not the sort of place that one would want to hang around, but the snow surfaces were much improved on the upper mountain compared to when we had first skied Sherman’s Pass on mostly manmade snow on Saturday.  We decided to take Alta Vista, which was newly opened thanks to snowmaking.  It was pretty firm since it was all manmade snow, but at least it was an alternative to Sherman’s Pass off the top.  The mountain had also opened up the Swing trail and Work Road, connecting over to Wilderness, and those were nice on all natural snow.  The Wilderness Lift Line had its usual pleasant natural snow skiing, and coverage was fine, even if the powder was a bit wind-affected in spots and the snow seemed a little “slow” due to the cold temperatures.  It was nice to see the boys enjoying their powder boards, which were certainly helping them out if they ran into any of the wind crust.  Once we were back at the base, everyone deemed it was time for a break because the boy’s fingers were definitely cold from their extended wait while I parked the car and got into my gear.

An image of flames in the wood-fired oven up at the Fireside Flatbread Restarant at Bolton Valley ski resort in Vermont
The warm, fiery glow of the wood-fired oven at Fireside Flatbread

We ate upstairs in the lodge, and took a nice long lunch with plenty of hot tomato soup for everyone to get their bodies warmed up.  The influx of cold did make for some nice wintry scenery around the lodge though, with icicles outside the main staircase, and beautiful patterns of frost on some of the windows.

An image of icicles outside a staircase at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Icicles outside the base lodge hinted at some of the cold temperatures today.

We finally decided to head back out into the cold for another run, and this time took Alta Vista and the more standard Sherman’s Pass route below that to mid mountain.  With all the new snow, we decided to check out the Bear Run woods, since we’d seen a lot of tracks in there.  We found that they were skiable, although a lot of the area was pretty marginal because the shrubbery had not been freshly cleared this season in a lot of the area.  It was fun to get into a bit of powder, but there were definitely obstacles underfoot so one had to be very cautious and we didn’t deem it worth another round of skiing.  From what I was hearing though in talking to folks on the mountain, off piste areas that had been well trimmed were offering up some decent turns, although one still had to be very cautious.  We decided to finish off with a mid mountain run, which let us avoid the more extensive cold and wind of the Vista Summit area.  We had a final good run enjoying the groomed Bear Run, which was skiing very nicely with all the new snow incorporated by the groomers.  We are certainly looking forward to some warming temperatures and the chance to get into some additional powder in the upcoming days.  I expect that the mountain will be able to open more natural snow terrain based on what we saw during today’s outing.

Another storm for the holiday week, another foot of snow for the northern mountains

We were very happy when the local mountains got about a foot of snow from our Christmas Day Storm, a few days ago, but apparently Mother Nature wasn’t quite done delivering the goods for the holiday week.  We just had another storm drop similar amounts of snow thanks to upslope conditions on the back side.  The storm was actually rather warm, and it cut right through Northern New England such that mixed precipitation was expected in the middle of the event, leaving us unsure if it would be a big net gain for the slopes.  Fortunately the slopes did get quite a net gain in liquid equivalent, with snow on the front and back ends, and only modest amounts of rain or mixed precipitation in the middle.

I followed the storm down at the house, and it began yesterday with a front end shot of snow that gradually mixed with sleet and went to a bit of rain overnight.  The morning, the back side of the storm came through with plenty of snow.  It started up in the morning, and then pounded the mountains and mountain valleys today with snow falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour.  In the end we wound up with 9.7 inches of total snow at the house, and the local mountains topped out at around a foot of snow.  Below is the list I’ve seen for storm totals for the Vermont ski areas using their 48-hr snow totals.  The list is from north to south along the spine of the Greens:

Jay Peak: 8”
Smuggler’s Notch: 12”
Stowe: 8”
Bolton Valley: 11”
Mad River Glen: 8”
Sugarbush: 12”
Middlebury: 6”
Pico: 10”
Killington: 10”
Okemo: 4”
Bromley: 0”
Magic Mountain: T
Stratton: 1”
Mount Snow: 0”

While last time around with the Christmas Day Storm, the Stowe area was the sweet spot for accumulations, this time around the east side of Addison County seemed to do the best with some locales topping the one foot mark for snowfall as indicated in the map of snowfall totals from the National Weather Service Office in Burlington:

A map of snow totals from the National Weather Service Office in Burlington Vermont for the snowstorm on December 27-28, 2011
While the Christmas Day Storm delivered the highest snowfall totals in the Stowe area, this storm seemed to hit hardest in the mountains to the east of Addison County.

For the full details on this storm, head to the detailed report at the winter weather section of our website.

Bolton Valley, VT 28DEC2011

Our current winter storm started up yesterday afternoon with some snow that gradually changed over to sleet and other mixed precipitation overnight.  As of this morning though, the precipitation was back to snow, and this afternoon we got pounded with 1 to 2 inch per hour snows in the local mountains and mountain valleys.  The snow was so intense that the northbound lane of I-89 between exits 10 and 11 (Bolton Flats area) had to be closed due to accidents.

With all the fresh snow, I decided that I’d head up to Bolton to check out the accumulations and get in a few late afternoon/evening runs.  Driving along Route 2 I noticed what seemed to be more cars than usual, but I knew the reason once I could see all the cars backed up on I-89.  I was thankful for my short trip to Bolton, because the driving was a bit tricky.  I did eventually run into travel issues on the Bolton Valley Access Road however.  At the big S-curve below Timberline I saw several cars stopped, and it looked like most of the snarl was due to what appeared to be a two-wheel drive vehicle having trouble on the hill.  I was even slowed down in the Subaru for a bit because I had to come to a dead stop and then get over into the snowier downhill lane to pass.  Our tires on the Subaru are getting close to the time for replacement, so it took a few attempts to really get the traction to get around that car while avoiding the downhill traffic.  It was definitely a greasy situation with the intense snowfall, which was falling too fast for the plows to keep up with it.  I even overheard a guy say that he was having trouble getting up the road with studded Hakkapeliitta tires.  Up in the village there was decent wind at perhaps 20 MPH, and moderate to heavy snowfall.  The new snow probably came in quite fast on the mountain while people were skiing – I saw a car having to be helped out by a tow truck in the relatively flat parking lot.

An image of a tow truck helping a stuck car int he Bolton Valley village during heavy snowfall from a storm on Decmeber 28, 2011
Amidst heavy snowfall, a tow truck helps out a stuck vehicle in one of Bolton Valley parking lots this evening.

The Vista Quad had been shut down with the high winds earlier in the day, but the Mid Mountain Chair was still running and I caught a ride.  From Mid Mountain I hiked up about 100 feet to see what the accumulations were like higher on the mountain, and I found about 7 inches of new snow in the areas that didn’t seem to have been hit by the wind.  The light was fading, but I caught some turns up there and they were very sweet – whoever gets out tomorrow in wind-sheltered locations is going to have some great turns.  I stuck around for another couple of lift-served runs off Mid Mountain, and conditions were of course very nice with the new snow.  The only issue was that the temperature was dropping quickly and the snow was actually starting to get “slow”.

An image of Bolton Valley's night skiing lights obscured by heavy snowfall - December 28, 2011
It was a white maelstrom tonight for skiing under the lights at Bolton Valley.

Although still quite snowy and slick, the drive back down the access road was uneventful, and the traffic was moving on I-89, but it was still backed up for quite a distance in the northbound lane.  Down here at the house I found 5.7 inches of new snow on the snowboard, representing the snowfall during the 12:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. collection period.  Relative to mid afternoon, the snow had definitely been getting fluffier; I estimated that it was probably in the range of 4 or 5% H2O.  The radar still shows the moisture stacked up against the Greens, and more snow has been falling this evening, so it looks like this will be a decent event.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the local mountains start to open up some natural snow terrain after this event.

An image of traffic backed up in the northbound lane of I-89 in the Bolton Flats area due to heavy snowfall on December 28, 2011
With the heavy snowfall, traffic was still backed up on I-89 when I headed home from the mountain.

Bolton Valley, VT 27DEC2011

An image of evergreens caked with snow at Bolton Valley ski resort in Vermont after about a foot of snow
Evergreens at mid mountain caked with powder from the Christmas Alberta Clipper/upslope storm that dropped about a foot of new snow.

Since we were out of town for much of the Christmas Alberta Clipper and upslope snow, I decided to pop up to the mountain today to get a little exercise and check out what the new snow had done for the slopes.  Bolton Valley did get close to a foot out of that event, so I was hoping it would soften up the hard, manmade conditions we’d encountered on the upper mountain on Saturday.

When I headed up to the mountain in the mid afternoon, temperatures at the house were running a bit above freezing, and up at Bolton’s main base elevation (2,100’) I found temperatures right around the freezing mark.  I boarded the Vista Quad and rode with a couple of snowboarders – one was a skateboarder that was just learning to snowboard, and it was fun listening to the older snowboarder, who was also a skater, talk about the transition and differences between the sports.  We started to get hit with a few sleet pellets from the incoming storm, and that got the conversation going about the weather.  There’s a storm coming in that’s expected to have some front end snow, then some mixing, and then hopefully plenty of back end upslope snow.  Up at the mountain today though, the weather was been pretty benign, and although it’s the holiday week, it’s still a Tuesday and the scene was quite mellow.  At the Vista Summit elevation (3,150’) the temperature was a bit below freezing, and on the upper mountain I could see the way the evergreens are now caked with snow thanks to the recent storm.

I was happy to find that with all the new snow, and presumably more days of churning things up with grooming, the conditions on the upper mountain were much improved over Saturday.  I was able to sink my edges into the groomed terrain nicely, especially on the lower mountain where we’d already found it to be better anyway.  The new snow has definitely pushed the skiing to another level in terms of natural snowpack, at least insofar as people are really starting to venture onto some of the natural snow terrain.  I looked at a few tracks on Cobrass Lane and saw that the skiing looked halfway decent.  I ran into patroller Quinn and his wife while I was taking pictures and watching some of the guys playing around in the hike park on Sprig O’ Pine, and we talked about the conditions and the incoming storm.  I stuck around just long enough for a couple of runs, certainly enough to get the legs burning from Telemark turns.  I could tell by the length of time that I could make continuous Tele turns that there’s a lot more work to be done on getting my legs strong for the season.  All in all though it was a really nice, mellow time out on the mountain, which was just what I was looking for.

An image of ski tracks on the Cobrass Lane trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont - December 27, 2011 - Recent snows have provided sufficient base for some of the natural snow terrain.
The recent storm has increased base depths to the level that people are starting to venture out onto some of the natural snow terrain.

I arrived back at the house to find light snow falling and a temperature of 34.3 F.  We had picked up a couple of tenths of an inch of snow, and as it looked like it was going to change over to something else like sleet around 5:15 P.M., I collected that off our back yard snowboard as the front end snow portion for the event.  However, it really started dumping out there for a while in the form of inch an hour type snow, and we picked up a quick inch of snow by 7:30 P.M. before sleet started to mix in again.  It’s going to be fun to see how much snow we get as this storm passes through, it’s a much bigger storm than just an Alberta Clipper.  And although it’s cutting to our west, there is a lot of potential moisture.

Christmas upslope snow sets the holiday mood in Northern Vermont

We were away on Christmas Eve, but when we returned to the house yesterday morning, it was snowing.  There was already 0.7 inches of new snow on the snowboard, and you could tell that the intensity was ramping up and more snow was on the way.  We were heading down to Southern New England for more holiday visiting with family, but I cleared the snowboard and set up the web cam so that that any new snowfall could be monitored from afar.  The driving was actually a bit tough through Green Mountains with the incoming snowfall, but once we got east of the Greens it tapered off.

Even though the storm was just an Alberta Clipper, the upslope snow potential of the Northern Green Mountains can always produce more, and I knew we were taking a good hit of snow when I checked my web cam yesterday evening and saw that my four-inch measuring boards were basically buried.  I had to rely on my 12-inch measuring board to get the snowfall measurements off the web cam.  Powderfreak was the best source of updates for the storm though, and he kept them rolling all night while the Stowe area got blitzed with snow.  He put up some awesome pictures of skiers and tracks in the fresh powder at Stowe Mountain Resort yesterday in the Northern New England thread at American Weather.

By the time the event wound down this morning, we’d picked up 5.1 inches at the house and the local mountains had accumulated about a foot.  For the areas that have reported in so far, I’ve got the north to south list of event totals (48-hour snow totals) at Vermont ski areas below.  The Smugg’s to Bolton stretch along the spine looks to have done nicely with this one, with Mt. Mansfield right in the sweet spot:

Jay Peak: 6”
Burke: 4”
Smuggler’s Notch: 10”
Stowe: 14”
Bolton Valley: 10”
Mad River Glen: 7”
Sugarbush: 4”
Pico: 1”
Killington: 1”
Bromley: 1”
Stratton: 0”
Mount Snow: 1”

The final snow totals for the area shown below in the map from the national weather service with the sweet spot being where that fuchsia color is located around Stowe:

A map of snow totals from the National Weather Service Office in Burlington Vermont for the Alberta Clipper and associated upslope snowon December 25-26, 2011
This Christmas Day Alberta Clipper system really delivered, with a jackpot in the Stowe area that saw totals close to double digits and about a foot in the mountains.

For the full details on this storm, head to the detailed report at the winter weather section of our website.

Bolton Valley, VT 24DEC2011

A westward view of Whiteface Mountain above the clouds from Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Looking out across Lake Champlain and the sea of clouds toward Whiteface in the Adirondacks.

We picked up a final 0.4 inches of snow overnight to finish off this event at 3.7 inches of total snow at the house and somewhere around a half foot up in the mountains.  With the opening of the mountain from the top for the first time this season, we decided to stop in for a few morning runs today to check out the conditions.  The snow on the upper half of the main mountain was really looking promising when I skinned up during my morning session at yesterday, and I even had the chance to get into some of the new powder.  At that point all the snowcat and snowmobile traffic had left the groomed surfaces full of track marks down the center of the trail, but we knew they’d take care of that with the groomers overnight.

We arrived up at the hill around mid morning to find that the latest rounds of snow had certainly continued the trend of setting up the natural snowpack and holiday scenery.  In the main village lot at around 2,100’ the snowpack was 4 to 6 inches in depth, although a lot of it was new, fluffy snow.  It was very pretty, even if it didn’t add a ton of liquid equivalent atop the old base.  We headed up the Vista Quad for our first trip to the Vista Summit for the season – the views were spectacular, with blue skies above, and clouds covering the valleys below.  Looking over to the Adirondacks to see the trails and slides of Whiteface hovering above the clouds was quite a sight.

Unfortunately, as inspiring as the views were, the conditions found on the new manmade snow on the upper mountain were the exact opposite.  The surface of Sherman’s Pass was hard, and full of death cookies in many areas.  After mentioning to E how great things had been yesterday with the fresh snow, and expecting the untouched snow that the mountain had put down to groomed into something really nice, it was a huge letdown.  The much was apparent pretty quickly, and after a few dozen turns E broached the topic by commenting, “No offense, but these conditions are crappy.”  There was no offense taken, as she was exactly right.  I popped off to the side of the trail near the bottom of Vista Glades and found a bit of powder, but the groomers had really hammered the slope from wall to wall and there was barely a scrap of fresh snow to find.  Both the morning and afternoon/evening sessions from yesterday had been so much fun, but this was more of a teeth-chattering slide across corduroy that was way too hard. 

Fortunately, at least the bottom half of the mountain was in nice shape, since that hadn’t seen the new manmade snow.  Without the constant freshening of trail and spirit that all the new snow had provided yesterday though, the experience just wasn’t elevated to quite the same level.  E and I enjoyed some pleasant Telemark turns, and the boys had their first chance of the season to be out on their new carving alpine skis, so that was good.  There was no need to return to the top after what we’d experienced up there, so we just did one more run off the Mid Mountain Lift.  That provided another round of decent turns, but with holiday obligations calling, we decided that we’d head home and just finish food preparations and get ready for the travel we have coming over the next couple of days.  Our first stop is going to be South Burlington for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  The good news is that more snow is expected to come into the area tomorrow, and it looks like there are a lot of potential storms of varying sizes stacked up for the holiday week.

A sign on the lower terminal of the Mid Mountain Lift at Bolton Valley that says "I Dream of Nor'easters"
We couldn't agree more, and we're ready for the upcoming storms over the holiday week in Northern Vermont.

Bolton Valley, VT 23DEC2011 (P.M. Session)

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing along the side of Bear Run at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan drops into a Telemark stance along the edge of the Bear Run trail.

Although I couldn’t get the boys interested in rolling out earlier enough to join me in my morning session up at Bolton, they were keen on coming up with me for some afternoon/evening turns.  E wanted to take care of some holiday chores with all of us out of the house, so there was plenty of incentive for us to hit the slopes.  With the minimal terrain of just Bear Run and a few other things available, we also convinced both boys that it would be an excellent day for them to get out on their Tele skis and work on their Telemark turns.

While temperatures at the main base elevation (2,100’) had been just a bit below freezing when I’d left the mountain in the late morning, they had dropped a lot by mid afternoon and it was in the low 20s F when we arrived.  We did three runs off the Mid Mountain Chair, and the boys immediately jumped into the little pathways in the trees along the edge of the trail when they saw they had sufficient coverage.  The boys both worked on their Telemark turns, and they even attempted some synchronous turns during their practice so that I could try to get pictures.  We enjoyed some nice little powder shots off to the sides of the groomed terrain, and we kept going a little wider off the trail each run to catch the untouched snow.  Although we’d seen a couple of people skiing it, Ty and Dylan eventually realized that the bottom of Sprig O’ Pine was open on natural snow.  One had to be a little careful to avoid any rocks, but it’s a pretty grassy area there so there weren’t actually that many to avoid, and getting to ski the powder definitely made it worth it.  Dylan had had our skiing plan all laid out for us, that after three runs we’d go into the lodge for some food, but the boys decided to take a couple of runs on the Mighty Mite without their poles, and that delayed snack time.  They ended up working on some Telemark turns in the powder off to the skier’s right of the Mighty Mite slope.  There were also a couple of jumps over there, and I had fun watching Dylan get stuck on the top of one of them because he didn’t have quite enough speed to make it all the way over the hump.  While the light snow continued to fall into the afternoon, by the time we were heading in for food around 3:30 P.M., the clouds had actually blown right out to entirely blue sky.

An image of Ty and Dylan attempting synchronous Telemark turns on Bear Run at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Ty ande Dylan work on some synchronized Telemark turns on Bear Run.

We had a late lunch/early dinner in the lodge, and the boys really went to town on the food.  As the sun went down, the light came on for the slopes and we headed back out for a few twilight runs.  The evening runs consisted of more Telemark practice with a jaunt to that natural snow section of Sprig O’ Pine on each run.  The temperature was around 20 F when we left the mountain about 5:45 P.M., and after the earlier clearing we’d seen, it was snowing again with some big flakes.  It was colder in the valley as well once we descended – mid to upper 20s F.  As of the 6:00 P.M. snowboard clearing at the house we’d picked up another 0.3” of snow to bring us to 3.3” total for the event.

Bolton Valley, VT 23DEC2011 (A.M. Session)

An image of ski tracks in the fresh powder along the edge of the Sherman's Pass Trail at Bolton Valley in Vermont - December 23, 2011
Making some tracks in the fresh powder along the edge of Sherman's Pass on the upper mountain

The potential storm system that we’d been watching for the past few days started trending warmer in some of the later weather model runs – warm enough that even the lower valleys in Northern Vermont looked like they might be dealing with a little rain before the snow moved in.  That wasn’t the case though, at least in the mountain valleys east of the Greens.  This morning when I got up I found 2.2 inches of snow on the snowboard at our house in Waterbury, and no sign of rain.  Light snow was still falling at the house, and with even more snow expected to fall in the mountains throughout the day, it seem like an opportune time for some storm day skiing.

I decided to head up to Bolton a bit early to earn some turns ahead of the 9:00 A.M. opening of the Mid Mountain Double.  I couldn’t quite convince the boys to go with me, but I figured I’d come home after a couple runs and get them to go up later in the day.  The valley snow accumulations certainly dropped off as I headed west to the town of Bolton, and at the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’), I’d say the accumulation looked like about 1”.  As I ascended the road, I was surprised at how slowly the accumulation increased – even up at 1,000’ it didn’t seem like there was too much more than at the base of the road.  Eventually the depth of snow started to increase though – up at 1,500’ at the base of Timberline, the trails had a decent covering of a few inches (although they may have had some base left from earlier storms).  The ascent of the road was a little tricky; with temperatures near freezing, the new snow was a bit greasy.  The traction control in the Subaru came on a few times in the slickest spots, but the ascent was pretty controlled and uneventful.  Watching how slowly cars were descending in the other lane had also been a tip off that the conditions warranted caution.  Up in the Bolton Valley Village area at 2,100’ I found 2-3” of fresh snow on the car next to me when I arrived, and I suspect that car had been there since the start of the snowfall.  It was snowing a steady light snow as I prepared my gear, and there was no wind, so the potential for fresh tracks was looking good.

I ran into patroller Quinn at the base of the Mid Mountain Double Chair, and since it was getting close to the 9:00 A.M. opening time for the lift, he said that I should avoid skinning right up Bear Run to keep out of the way of downhill traffic on open terrain.  Fortunately, this round of snow was enough to make skinning practical on natural snow terrain – even on the lower part of the main mountain.  I was able to skin up Villager to Foxy, and with the addition of the new snow the natural snowpack was generally 3 – 4”.  The fresh snow was reasonably dense, so it was plenty to keep my skis away from the ground underneath.  I stopped in at the summit station of the Snowflake Chair, grabbed some snow photos, and spend a few moments enjoying the quiet and the snowfall.

I continued on over to the mid mountain area, then headed up Bull Run to Sherman’s Pass.  The mountain was running a couple of snow guns on Sherman’s, presumably in spots they wanted to finish up for tomorrow’s planned opening from the Vista Summit.  The snowfall definitely intensified on the upper mountain, coming in at a moderate level with some larger flakes up to 7 – 8 mm in diameter.  The more intense snowfall had made a difference in the accumulations as well.  Up around 3,150’ near the Vista Summit, depth checks revealed that new accumulations were 4”+, and I found total natural snowpack in the 6 – 8” range.  That snowpack is actually pretty substantial, since there is a good layer of consolidated stuff on the bottom that went through the recent thaw/freeze.  With this new snow on top, which is certainly not ultra fluff, one good storm is all it will take to open some of the mellower natural snow terrain on the upper mountain.  As I put away my skins and got ready for the descent behind the top station of the Vista Quad, I check on the thermometer and the temperature was 28 F.  Unlike below, there was a bit of a breeze, perhaps 10 MPH, and the wind turbine was running.  I got a call from Johannes asking about where I was and if I wanted to ski with everyone, and I told him that I was at the Vista Summit and would be down soon.

The descent was nice.  Although most of Sherman’s was messy with track marks and ruts from all the snowcat and snowmobile traffic, I was able to find some fresh turns off to the sides of the trail where equipment hadn’t blemished the snow.  Just as I was descending to mid mountain I saw Helena getting off the Mid Mountain Chair, so the timing was perfect for meeting up.  Helena was on her new twin tip skis, and although she commented that they felt weird at first, she made some beautiful, controlled turns, and it looked like she was going to take to them pretty quickly.  Thomas and Johannes soon caught up to us on our descent, and we did a couple of runs while Stephen finished getting into his gear.  At some point during that time we started to get some nice big 1” upslope-style flakes of snow – the intensity was still generally light to at most moderate at times, but it had that nice winter maelstrom look to it and it was helping to keep things fresh.  I caught one more run once Stephen joined the group, and then I decided that I should head home for lunch and see if I could get the boys to come up for some turns.  Even with the limited terrain that was open, the resort had that powder day buzz and the quality of the skiing was pumped up a notch due to the new snow.  There were powder pockets off to the sides in which one could play around, and it made Bear Run all the more enjoyable.

An image of the Mid Mountain Chairlift at Bolton Valley with snow falling on December 23, 2011
Thomas and Johannes enjoy a ride on the Mid Mountain Chair amidst big flakes of upslope snowfall.

Back down at the car I found close to an inch of new snow on it, and since I’d been there for a couple of hours, that would suggest a snowfall rate of ~0.5”/hr during that period down at the main base elevations.  The temperature was a bit below freezing at 2,100’, but back down at the bottom of the access road it was certainly above freezing at ~35 F.  Even back at the house it was above freezing at 34.3 F, and although the snow had continued to fall, the accumulation on our back yard snowboard had not gone above the 0.7” from this morning, presumably due to consolidation and warming.  I told the boys that the skiing was a lot of fun up on the mountain, and that they should get in some Telemark practice – it was the perfect time to do it with fairly minimal, mellow terrain being open.  Click through to get to a report on our afternoon session back up at the mountain.