Bolton Valley, VT 23NOV2011
Our first big Northern Vermont storm of the season came in with a nice thump of snow during the overnight hours, and I awoke to find 7.1 inches of moderately dense snow on the snowboard for my 6:00 A.M. report to CoCoRaHS. Later in the morning the National Weather Service Office in Burlington put out a map showing the overnight snow totals, but the snow was still coming down. Snow continued to fall at the house all morning, and while it gradually tapered to very light snow, we picked up a few more inches to bring us into double digits for the storm total.
We played out in the snow for a while with the boys, and then in the mid afternoon I had to decide if I wanted to get out and make some turns in the new snow. Ideally I was looking for a place where man-made snow had been put down as a base, but unfortunately most of the mountains that had been making snow were actually opening for lift-served skiing. I thought about Sugarbush, since they aren’t opening until tomorrow, but they’ve been a bit testy with people earning turns in recent years and I didn’t want to drive over just to get turned away.
I eventually decided that I’d pop up to Bolton and see how the snow looked. I wasn’t expecting much in terms of skiing without a prior base, but perhaps I’d be pleasantly surprised. The temperature had gone a couple degrees above freezing at our house (elevation 495’), so the snow had been falling off the trees and the snow in the yard had also settled a bit. As Powderfreak had mentioned, the snow accumulations really did fall off as I headed a couple of miles west past the Waterbury/Bolton line. At the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’) it was really amazing, there were just a couple inches of snow on the ground from the storm. It had me really worried about what went on up at the mountain, but fortunately the snow depths began to increase as I climbed in elevation as usual. Up at around 1,000’ near the Bolton Valley Resort sign, it looked like there were about 4 inches on the ground, and by the time I reached the Timberline base at 1,500’ it was notably deeper. I stopped in near the lodge and did a quick measurement with my pole to reveal 8.5 inches of settled snow. I saw one guy putting his skins on his skis for a tour, and noticed a couple of other cars that might have belonged to skiers, but I decided to head up to the main base area and see if things got a bit deeper. While at the base of the access road the temperature had been a couple degrees above freezing just like at our house, it dropped to around the freezing mark by the Timberline base, and it was a couple degrees below freezing up at the village (2,100’). As soon as I parked the car I checked the snow depth there, and found that it was about 10 inches.
As I was prepping my skis with skins, I saw a couple of snowboarders that were just finishing up their descent – actually, I heard them first because they were so boisterous in their jubilation for the ride they’d just had. From their comments the snow sounded quite good, so I was optimistic for some decent turns. Light snow was still coming down as I began my ascent, and although there didn’t appear to be an established skin track, I was able to use the descent tracks of previous skiers and riders for some pretty quick transit up the hill. I found about 11 inches of settled snow around Mid Mountain (2,500’) and then when I stopped around 2,800’ it was in the range of a foot. Although it was calm during my ascent, there clearly had been some wind during the storm because there were some small drifts around; I found spots that had built up to around 16 inches. It would have been nice to go a little higher, but where I stopped at the top of Schuss, the tracks I’d been following stopped as well. It seemed like the right place to call it, and since it was 4:15 P.M. and the light was going fast, I didn’t want to push it.
Even though the available light was getting short, I found myself standing for a few minutes listening to the absolute dead silence of winter that had taken hold on the mountain. I looked up, let the light snow sprinkle my face, and enjoyed the beauty of winter’s return to the North Country. It was actually difficult to pull myself away for the descent. Finally I got it in gear though, and it turned out that indeed the snow was great. I’d brought my rock skis, but one could certainly get by with nice equipment – the foot of dense snow was more than enough to cover just about everything. The snow was a little stiff, and I had to throw in some alpine turns in some spots for stability, but even on my skinny rock skis I got in plenty of Telemark turns as well, and they felt good. I’d actually say that the snow quality was just a notch below what we found on our ski trip to Pico a few weeks back, and that was really pretty good after back to back storms.
The turns had definitely been worth the trip, and soon I found myself back at the base area in the growing dusk, enjoying the lights of the Village and the wintry scene. Winter was indeed back, and even if the forecast suggests that it’s not quite here for good just yet, it’s late November and it won’t stay away for long. Here’s to many more days like today in the not too distant future.
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