Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 21JAN2012

An image of Ty skiing a glade below the Heavenly Highway trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty glides through some Champlain Powder today in a glade below Heavenly Highway.

There was some warmth in the area in the early part of the week that put a crust on snow surfaces, but then the mountains picked up in excess of a half foot of snow in the Thursday/Friday storm, and that remedied the issue pretty quickly.  And, although the current storm has been focused down along the south coast of New England, the local Northern Vermont resorts reported another 2 to 3 inches of fluff to top the powder off further.  This latest addition was extremely dry snow, classic Champlain Powder™.  With only about 8 inches or so of new snow atop the old base, and the top of that being some of our ultra fluff, it wasn’t going to be extremely durable when stacked up against resort levels of skier traffic, so it seemed like a great day to head out for some backcountry turns.  It also turned out that Dylan had to go to a birthday party today, so it meant that Ty and I could ski together; we’d be able to cover ground a little faster and extend our tour a bit compared to an outing in which Dylan was with us.

“…we were surrounded by
accumulations of that 2%
water-content Champlain
Powder™ that I affectionately
call ‘see-through’ snow.”

Ty and I spent the morning around the house, and light snow was in the air because we were on the northern periphery of that storm off to the south.  The snowfall transitioned from small 1-2 mm diameter flakes in the early hours, to huge, 1-inch monsters by mid morning.  The small flakes deposited just a couple tenths of an inch, but by noon we’d picked up another couple of inches thanks to the loft from those huge flakes.  My noontime snow density analysis revealed that the water content of the snow was just 2%; indeed it was as light as feathers.  While I prepared the ski gear, Ty grabbed his sled and hit the front yard slope to enjoy some of the fresh fluff.  Even though the top coating on the snowpack wasn’t all that deep, it was so dry that it easily exploded up around him as he cruised through it on his sled.  We talked about why this snow behaved that way, and I pointed out the fact that since this snow was 2% water, that meant it was also 98% air.  Looking at it that way really puts a perspective on just how delicate and airy such accumulations are.   One great thing about living so close to Bolton Valley, is that when we get snow like that at the house, we know that they’ve received at least that much (and almost always significantly more) up on the resort’s slopes.

An image of Ty sledding in extremely dry, 2% water content powder at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
Champlain Powder comprised of just 2% water explodes around Ty this morning as he takes a run on one of the sledding hills at the house.

It continued to snow lightly at the house, and we’d picked up another half inch of fluff by the time we headed up to the mountain around 1:00 P.M.  We skinned up Bryant, and I figured that with Ty’s energy level, we’d be able to head up past the Bryant Cabin and add in some of the higher elevation glades to our descent.  The trip up Bryant was very serene, as we were surrounded by accumulations of that 2% water-content Champlain Powder™ that I affectionately call “see-through” snow.  Indeed, the snow piles up with such loft on tree branches and other objects that you can actually see right through it in certain spots.  As we ascended along the trail, touching the snow-loaded branches would produce the most amazing effect, as hundreds of huge crystals would scatter and float ever so slowly toward the ground in a brilliant, shimmering storm.

An image of an evergreen branch coated with super-dry, 2% water-content "Champlain Powder" along the Bryant Trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Branches along the Bryant trail coated with some of that 2% H2O “see-through” Champlain Powder

Once we approached the Bryant Cabin, we found out that it was occupied by a group that had rented it out for an overnight to enjoy some backcountry skiing, and they invited us to join them inside.  They had the woodstove running, and it was delightfully warm in there.  Ty and I pulled out our snacks and hot chocolate, and had a great time chatting as Ty intermittently explored the cabin.  I can’t recall exactly where the group was from, but I think at least some of them were from parts of Southern New England, so it was great to see that they had been able to come up and enjoy the snow – as deficient as our snowfall has been so far this season in Northern Vermont, farther south, the dearth of snowfall seems even worse.  While we were there, various members of the group were in and out getting in some touring, and it was just what you’d expect to see at the Bryant Cabin in the heart of winter.

An image of the Bryant Cabin with smoke coming from the chimney on the Nordic/backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Smoke from the chimney foretold a warm welcome at the Bryant Cabin today

After our brief stay, Ty and I bid everyone at the cabin adieu, thanked them for the “warm” hospitality, and headed out to gain a bit more vertical before our descent.  We used Birch Loop to connect to Heavenly Highway, and then continued up for a few more minutes to get to the higher glade that drops us down to Gardiner’s Lane.  While switching gear, I initially couldn’t figure out why my pack smelled so much like hot chocolate, but then I saw that my thermos had leaked a little liquid into the pack’s interior.  The thermos has one of those recessed valves in it that enables you to pour out the liquid without removing the inner cap, but it’s easy to forget to close that valve (and you often can’t tell at a quick glance whether it’s open or closed).  Indeed, simply screwing the outer cup/cap back on the top of the bottle was not liquid-tight.  The spill wasn’t too large, but I did smell like hot chocolate for the rest of the tour and learned a good lesson about those valves – since it’s difficult to tell whether they are open or closed, close them as soon as you are done pouring so you don’t need to worry about it.

 

An image of Ty skiing a glade near the World Cup trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Finishing off the day in the backcountry glades with the golden light of the afternoon sun.

That first glade dropping from Heavenly Highway has some pretty steep pitches, and even with all the new snow that had fallen, we would still encounter the underlying crust at times.  Ty had an advantage, as he floated on top of the snow better than I did, and he even worked a few Telemark-style turns into the pitch.  We both managed some nice turns though, since there are plenty of open spots in that area.  We next headed down to JJ’s, and since the trail itself had seen a good deal of traffic, we opted to check out some trees off to the side.  The tree spacing was just too dense for the pitch of the slope combined with the consistency of the snow, so we didn’t get a lot of great turns in there.  We got back into some really awesome turns though once we hit the lower elevation glades down near World Cup.  The pitches there are more moderate, and there were just a couple of old, partially buried tracks from other skiers, so that set us up for some beautiful floating through the trees in the golden light of the setting sun.  It was definitely a stupendous way to end the day.

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