Monroe’s Sugarin’, Barton, VT 19MAR2011
Today was Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, so we headed to my cousin Steve’s sugarbush in Barton for his event. Skies were clear with temperatures in the mid 30s F at our house (500’) when we left around midday, so it was seasonably cool, and we’d picked up a touch of new snow in the morning.
The snowpack at the house is currently a bit over 20 inches, and I’m used to seeing the snowpack get substantially deeper as we head through the heights of East Montpelier through West Danville, but that wasn’t really the case this year. In some cases I’d say the snowpack was even a bit less than our area. I’m not sure if it’s due to the open house being more toward the middle of the month this year vs. the end of the month, or if that area missed out on some storms this season. The snowpack in the Danville area looked pretty substantial though, and as usual Joe’s Pond was very solidly frozen with deep snow cover from what we could see. Both boys thought the pond was just a huge field because any signs of the water were so buried. It was early afternoon with full sun as we passed though that area, and the temperature was still below freezing at 31 F.
We found the same temperature at Steve’s place when we arrived, and it seemed to sit right around there all day. Fortunately, the full sun and lack of any wind made it quite comfortable both in and out of doors. A couple of days this week had warm overnight temperatures, meaning that the sap flow never ceased, so it made for quite a busy week for Steve. Sap was certainly running today though, and Steve fired up the boiler at around 2:30 P.M. to take care of the recent collections. There were some great shots of the steam from the sugarhouse when he fired everything up.
During the day there was the usual assortment of food, sugar on snow, sledding, etc. The sledding looked especially fun this year, as they were making long runs down from the main road out of the sugarbush, and trains of sleds were getting pulled up by snowmachine. Trains of three loaded sleds seemed to be about the limit for the machine they were running though, as they temporarily got stuck with one of those loads from what I heard. Interesting conversations ensued in the sugarhouse about what size snowmachine they were running and what size would be needed for the load they were attempting.
The boys didn’t really get in any sledding this year, since they spent a lot of time jumping off the huge mounds of snow surrounding the sugarhouse, and they also headed out with E and I for some skiing. In terms of snowpack in the area, Steve said that they picked up 32 inches of snow from the storm a couple of weeks back, and I’d say the snowpack in the woods was somewhat deeper than what we have around our house, but the disparity wasn’t as big as we’ve sometimes seen.
I’ve skied in Steve’s sugarbush area in the past, but with a temperature a bit below freezing, sunny, open areas with southern exposure were the way to go. Fortunately there’s a lot of open terrain available as well. The Northeast Kingdom is generally elevated compared to our area (for example, Steve’s sugarbush and the surrounding area are in the 1,300’ to 1,500’ elevation range, vs. our house in the Winooski Valley at 500’). There are mountains regions in the Northeast Kingdom, since Vermont has essentially got them wall to wall, but there are also a lot of areas with open, elevated land and rolling hills. It’s quite a contrast to the 3,000’ – 4,000’ of vertical relief and wooded areas that one finds living along the spine of the Greens, but open areas make for some expansive views and it feels like one could tour forever.
We’d brought our snowshoes for a tour in case the snow didn’t soften up, but areas in the sun looked great, so we started a ski tour from Steve’s place and headed off to the east into the open terrain. There is access right in an adjoining field to the V.A.S.T. network, and I bet one could use that for some great touring. As we watched some of the snowmachines on the network head off to the north through the trees, I could only imagine the great amounts of meadow skipping that one could assemble in the area. Looking across the broad valley from where we were skiing, a similar patchwork of open terrain and woodlots seemed to stretch on almost forever, or at least until one ran into higher mountains.
As for our skiing, the snow in the sun was trying to decide whether it wanted to stick to winter of move into spring, but whatever the indecisiveness, the turns were pretty fine in my book. There was a bit of melt crust on the surface of the snow, but below that it was soft – not sure if it was quite powder or a softening of some other type of snow, but it was nice as long as you were in charge of your skis. I was able to have a blast even on medium width Telemark gear, so it certainly wasn’t too difficult. I went for another lap and didn’t even skin up, just herring boned, so I could envision folks going with even-lighter weight touring gear for the rolling terrain and having a great time.
After skiing I stopped in at the sugarhouse to have a little more food, chat with Steve, and get supplies of syrup for us and other members of the family that couldn’t make it to the open house. Steve said he was getting borderline fancy grade during the boil, and he seems to get a lot of that. We enjoy the delicate flavor of the fancy, although many folks like the darker ambers. The only thing I didn’t get to do before I left was get a syrup shot, so maybe I’ll have to warm one up from out supply at home to take care of that fix.