For much of January the weather pattern in Northern Vermont featured winter storms with mixed precipitation. The storms weren’t actually that bad in terms of how they affected the ski conditions, but with the mixed precipitation robbing some of the potential snowfall, they just didn’t have that oomph of full-blown winter storms. So naturally everyone was excited when February rolled around and the weather pattern appeared to be undergoing a change. The only problem was… it was a change to essentially no storms at all. That’s good for a few days to perhaps a week if it comes with good snow preservation, but soon the powder gets harder to find, and the groomed snow just gets old. We’d hit that point by last Saturday – the quote from Stephen was that the snow was “beaten down”, and I’d say he nailed the general demeanor of the slopes perfectly. To put some numbers on it, through today (February 18th) we’ve had just 5.0 inches of snowfall at the house for the month… a month that averages roughly 45 inches of snow down here in the valley. So when we got to mid February and it looked like the weather was going to switch back to the pattern of storms with mixed precipitation like we saw in January, I think there was some relief… we probably just didn’t know how good we had it before. The storm ushering in this change started up on Thursday, and it was pretty weak on precipitation overall, but by this morning the local mountains were approaching a half foot of new snow, which was more than enough to whet our appetites for the slopes. Powderfreak has been keeping us apprised of the conditions at Stowe, and based on his powdery pictures from yesterday, we knew that the good snow was out there. Combined with a weather forecast of partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low to mid 30s F, it was looking like a mighty fine day to hit the slopes.
Bolton’s Timberline area finally opened last weekend, and although I suspected that the warmth this week was going to undermine the conditions on those lower elevation trails, we still wanted to base ourselves out of Timberline for the day due to the convenience it offers. It’s a holiday weekend, so parking in the village and dealing with the main base would likely be a bit chaotic. When we arrived at the Timberline Base (~1,500’) around mid morning today, the snow situation was actually looking a bit grim; the temperature was already in the mid 30s F and the snow surfaces looked like just a couple of inches of new snow over a refried base. I was optimistic though; I knew the higher elevations would be in much better shape, and our real goal was to get ourselves over to the main base area and up to Wilderness.
Just as we were getting our gear on we saw Stephen and his crew at the base of the Timberline Quad. I inquired about the snow conditions and Stephen didn’t sound enthusiastic. I asked him if he’d been over to Wilderness yet and he said no, so I was still holding out hope. While snow surfaces did look bland at first, they quickly improved as we rode up toward the Timberline Summit (~2,500’), and all my fears were allayed by the time we got off the lift. I checked off the side of the trail and found a good 4 to 6 inches of powder there for the taking, with still more in some spots. I even took a quick jaunt in the Timberline Run trees, and found the same stuff. By this point I knew we were in for some good powder skiing, and I was more than happy to share this thought with E. She was quite unimpressed with some of the off piste conditions last weekend, and her enthusiasm for today was painfully low at first. As I passed by Lower Bentley on our way to the main base, I saw some great looking powder off to the side of the trail and really wanted to dive in, but our goal was Wilderness and we had to stay on task.
Stephen and his kids were all on board for a run in Snow Hole, so we hopped on the Wilderness Lift with a group plan in hand. As we ascended through the Wilderness terrain, it was quickly obvious how good the snow was going to be. We began to see tracks in the powder on the Wilderness Lift Line, and the depths were increasing nicely. We found great snow in Snow Hole, a general 4 to 6 inches of powder outside of the high traffic areas where the snow had already been packed down. The hobblebush is sticking out a couple of feet in the big open area up top though – it could probably use a trim this off season, but it’s presence is also just a function of the low snowpack this year.
Stephen, Thomas, Johannes, and Helena had to head in for lunch after that run, but E and the boys and I went up for another Wilderness run to hit Bolton Outlaw and its surroundings. Bolton Outlaw had seen enough traffic that it unfortunately held a lot of slick areas, but the glades around it were fantastic. The boys ripped up some of the fresh lines in there and the snow quality had everyone excited. We poked around in some lower elevation glades as we descended back to the base, with some decent turns, but nothing quite up to the level of those Outlaw Glades. The Wilderness Lift Line provided some nice turns though, consistent with the quality-looking snow we’d seen from the lift.
The boys were already talking about lunch by the time we got back to the base, and we headed into the lodge with a plan to go to the James Moore Tavern. Stephen and his group were ready to head back out onto the slopes, and had to leave by 1:00 P.M., but Ty and Dylan were just too hungry to be talked away from lunch. The lodge was really hopping though with holiday business; we even had to wait about 10 minutes to get into the Tavern. With the wait we had plenty of time to hang our ski stuff in the clothing area, and we made an impressive and compact assembly of all our gear, even the helmets. Lunch was a fun time; we sat next to a mom and her toddler, who kept everyone entertained for the entire meal. The boys got some impressive-looking hot chocolates to start things off, and for me, lunch was an easy choice. As soon as we entered the tavern I smelled that barbeque smell from the pulled pork sandwich, and my mind was immediately made up. I’ve had it before, but this one was especially good.
We headed back out to the slopes after our filling lunch, and Wilderness was all we had on our minds; there was no lift queue, the snow was fantastic, and there was powder to ski. Based on what we’d heard from Stephen about the Vista area, there was no need to go anywhere else. We ran the same couple of runs that we’d hit earlier, and powder pickings were a little slimmer, but the snow was still quite good. We did notice that areas of powder in the sun below about 2,500’ were getting a little thick, so presumably the freezing line was creeping up a bit in elevation. Those Outlaw Glades were again the standout of the afternoon, and E said that she had her best Telemark turns of the day in there.
We eventually decided to call it a day and headed over to Snowflake to get us back to Timberline. We were actually thinking of doing an extra run off Snowflake, but there was a lift queue of a few minutes so we just decided to skip that plan. A nice bonus on the trip back to Timberline though was Lower Tattle Tale. For whatever reason, people had not been skiing it from the middle entrance, and the skier’s left held lots of powder. I thought it might be too low in elevation to hold onto such good soft snow, but it was more than fine, it was sweet! Judging by what we found on the trip back to the Timberline Base, I’d say that around 2,000’ was the elevation at which the powder really started to peter out. The groomed trails began to get slick as well, so below that elevation was where temperatures must have gotten just a bit too far above freezing over the past couple of days.
Although temperatures had definitely stayed below freezing on the upper mountain, it was still above freezing when we got back to the car, so the lower elevation snow at Timberline will probably do a bit of temperature cycling tonight. It seems like everything above 2,000’ is going to continue to be mighty fine though, so all the holiday visitors should keep on getting those good turns. Based on the fantastic conditions we saw up high on Wilderness, we’re thinking of going for some backcountry skiing tomorrow – it looks like another comfortable midwinter day with sunshine, so there should be some opportunities for excellent earned turns. We may also get a couple more of those mixed precipitation storms in the coming week, and even if they’re not perfect, at least they’ll keep the slopes fresh – and we’re going to appreciate that as much as we can.