Bolton Valley, VT Nordic & Backcountry 21FEB2011


Temperatures warmed up above freezing at all elevations in Northern Vermont at the end of last week, so we waited for the powder to build up over the long weekend before finally heading out this afternoon for turns.  We had three small systems that dropped snow over the holiday weekend; down at the house we picked up 3.7 inches of snow in the form of 0.21 inches of liquid, and Bolton was reporting 5 inches of snow in the higher elevations.  The new powder at the house had settled down to about 2 to 3 inches over the old base, so we knew there would be at least that much up on the mountain.  As I was watching the Vermont CoCoRaHS reports come in during the morning, I noticed how our 24-hour snow accumulation and even our overall snowpack depth were substantially greater than many of the reporting stations at higher elevations to the north and east such as Marshfield, Hyde Park, and Barton.  It was definitely the power of the Green Mountain spine at work, and we had it to thank for replenishing our fresh snow despite the dearth of major storms.


We noticed that Killington was indicating 8 inches of new snow in their morning report, so we actually contemplated a trip down to Central Vermont for some turns, but when I checked the Killington Discussion Forum it sounded like folks on the ground weren’t actually finding that level of accumulation.  In terms of new snow, it was looking like we’d be just as well off right at Bolton, without the need to really drive anywhere.


In general, temperatures were looking a little cold and the new snow not quite deep enough for lift-served skiing, so our plan was to head out for some powder on Bolton’s Nordic/backcountry network.  We found 3 to 4 inches of settled powder in the lower village portion of the network at around 2,000’, so depths were looking decent.  Ty cruised right along on his skins on the Bryant Trail, and while Dylan was somewhat slower, he had enough energy to make it all the way to Bryant Cabin for the first time in his backcountry skiing career.  It was definitely colder than we thought it would be, so we had to keep moving to stay warm, and although there was no fire going in the cabin, we were happy to get in there and get a bit warmer.  At the cabin elevation (~2,700’) the depths of new snow were 4 to 5 inches.  That whole stretch up to the cabin is generally quite sheltered, but we did find a few drifts with depths up to around 15 inches.


It was actually the first trip all the way to the cabin for both Ty and Dylan, so they had fun exploring and especially checking out the sleeping area upstairs.  We’d brought a small thermos of hot chocolate, and it turned out to be way too small because it was gone in a flash with everyone’s desire to warm up and take in a bit of energy.


I prepped everyone’s gear for descent mode while they were still in the cabin keeping warm, and we didn’t doddle as we headed out toward Gardiner’s Lane.  On our previous family outing on the network back on January 8th, we’d stopped at the top of Coyote and used it to descend to the main Nordic trails, but this time we were able to use the entirety of Gardiner’s Lane.  One would definitely be touching down to the old surface if they skied steep terrain, but the low and medium angle terrain that we skied yielded some excellent powder turns.  Since there were just some warm temperatures and not any real rain to speak of, there wasn’t really a slick concrete crust on the old snow.  The typical sub-surfaces we encountered were more like Styrofoam, or spongy sugar, with an occasional scratchier spot thrown in.  There is certainly a thickening of the snow in the upper layers of the snowpack due to the warming, but upon investigation I found that it was easy to punch through that with a pole down to powder, or something unconsolidated and equivalent below.  The transition between the old snow and the new also seems to have been helped out by some rather dense snow that fell first when the temperatures were coming down below freezing in the Friday/Saturday period.  Thanks to this layer, with moderately fat skis we found turns to be mostly bottomless in undisturbed areas of powder, as long as one didn’t get beyond medium angle terrain.


Near the bottom of the Gardiner’s Lane descent, Dylan started having some binding issues; one of his bindings was becoming loose.  After pulling out a couple of times, I eventually just carried him along to finish out the run, and he had quite a thrill as we whooshed through the powder in the bobsled track as we were descending toward the groomed trails.  From there he easily walked out to the car.  It turns out that a couple of his binding screws were stripped out, so we’ll get those fixed.  I didn’t see them, but apparently E had some awesome turns in the trees off the Telemark Practice Slope; I think she’s enjoying these Nordic/backcountry descents more and more.


I’m not sure how lift-served skiing has fared, although I don’t think the surfaces we saw would hold up to too much traffic without some grooming.  Our next substantial storm may come at the end of this week, although the track of that one seems far from locked in, so we’ll have to watch it closely.